By Samuel Smiles.
“A coeur vaillant rien d’impossible.”—Jacques Coeur.
“Den Muthigen gehort die Welt.”—German Proverb.
“In every work that he began . . . he did it with all his heart, and prospered.”—II. Chron. XXXI. 21.
There is a famous speech recorded of an old Norseman, thoroughly characteristic of the Teuton. “I believe neither in idols nor demons,” said he, “I put my sole trust in my own strength of body and soul.” The ancient crest of a pickaxe with the motto of “Either I will find a way or make one,” was an expression of the same sturdy independence which to this day distinguishes the descendants of the Northmen. Indeed nothing could be more characteristic of the Scandinavian mythology, than that it had a god with a hammer. A man’s character is seen in small matters; and from even so slight a test as the mode in which a man wields a hammer, his energy may in some measure be inferred. Thus an eminent Frenchman hit off in a single phrase the characteristic quality of the inhabitants of a particular district, in which a friend of his proposed to settle and buy land. “Beware,” said he, “of making a purchase there; I know the men of that department; the pupils who come from it to our veterinary school at Paris DO NOT STRIKE HARD UPON THE ANVIL; they want energy; and you will not get a satisfactory return on any capital you may invest there.” A fine and just appreciation of character, indicating the thoughtful observer; and strikingly illustrative of the fact that it is the energy of the individual men that gives strength to a State, and confers a value even upon the very soil which they cultivate. As the French proverb has it: “Tant vaut l’homme, tant vaut sa terre.”
The cultivation of this quality is of the greatest importance; resolute determination in the pursuit of worthy objects being the foundation of all true greatness of character. Energy enables a man to force his way through irksome drudgery and dry details, and carries him onward and upward in every station in life. It accomplishes more than genius, with not one-half the disappointment and peril. It is not eminent talent that is required to ensure success in any pursuit, so much as purpose,--not merely the power to achieve, but the will to labor energetically and perseveringly. Hence energy of will may be defined to be the very central power of character in a man—in a word, it is the Man himself. It gives impulse to his every action, and soul to every effort. True hope is based on it,--and it is hope that gives the real perfume to life. There is a fine heraldic motto on a broken helmet in Battle Abbey, “L’espoir est ma force,” which might be the motto of every man’s life. “Woe unto him that is fainthearted,” says the son of Sirach. There is, indeed, no blessing equal to the possession of a stout heart. Even if a man fail in his efforts, it will be a satisfaction to him to enjoy the consciousness of having done his best. In humble life nothing can be more cheering and beautiful than to see a man combating suffering by patience, triumphing in his integrity, and who, when his feet are bleeding and his limbs failing him, still walks upon his courage.
Mere wishes and desires but engender a sort of green sickness in young minds, unless they are promptly embodied in act and deed. It will not avail merely to wait as so many do, “until Blucher comes up,” but they must struggle on and persevere in the mean time, as Wellington did. The good purpose once formed must be carried out with alacrity and without swerving. In most conditions of life, drudgery and toil are to be cheerfully endured as the best and most wholesome discipline. “In life,” said Ary Scheffer, “nothing bears fruit except by labor of mind or body. To strive and still strive—such is life; and in this respect mine is fulfilled; but I dare to say, with just pride, that nothing has ever shaken my courage. With a strong soul, and a noble aim, one can do what one wills, morally speaking.”
Hugh Miller said the only school in which he was properly taught was “that world-wide school in which toil and hardship are the severe but noble teachers.” He who allows his application to falter, or shirks his work on frivolous pretexts, is on the sure road to ultimate failure. Let any task be undertaken as a thing not possible to be evaded, and it will soon come to be performed with alacrity and cheerfulness. Charles IX. of Sweden was a firm believer in the power of will, even in youth. Laying his hand on the head of his youngest son when engaged on a difficult task, he exclaimed, “He SHALL do it! he SHALL do it!” The habit of application becomes easy in time, like every other habit. Thus persons with comparatively moderate powers will accomplish much, if they apply themselves wholly and indefatigably to one thing at a time. Fowell Buxton placed his confidence in ordinary means and extraordinary application; realizing the scriptural injunction, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might;” and he attributed his own success in life to his practice of “being a whole man to one thing at a time.”
Nothing that is of real worth can be achieved without courageous working. Man owes his growth chiefly to that active striving of the will, that encounter with difficulty, which we call effort; and it is astonishing to find how often results apparently impracticable are thus made possible. An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but the precursors of the things which we are capable of performing. On the contrary, the timid and hesitating find everything impossible, chiefly because it seems so. It is related of a young French officer, that he used to walk about his apartment exclaiming, “I WILL be Marshal of France and a great general.” His ardent desire was the presentiment of his success; for the young officer did become a distinguished commander, and he died a Marshal of France.
Mr. Walker, author of the ‘Original,’ had so great a faith in the power of will, that he says on one occasion he DETERMINED to be well, and he was so. This may answer once; but, though safer to follow than many prescriptions, it will not always succeed. The power of mind over body is no doubt great, but it may be strained until the physical power breaks down altogether. It is related of Muley Moluc, the Moorish leader, that, when lying ill, almost worn out by an incurable disease, a battle took place between his troops and the Portuguese; when, starting from his litter at the great crisis of the fight, he rallied his army, led them to victory, and instantly afterwards sank exhausted and expired.
It is will,--force of purpose,--that enables a man to do or be whatever he sets his mind on being or doing. A holy man was accustomed to say, “Whatever you wish, that you are: for such is the force of our will, joined to the Divine, that whatever we wish to be, seriously, and with a true intention, that we become. No one ardently wishes to be submissive, patient, modest, or liberal, who does not become what he wishes.” The story is told of a working carpenter, who was observed one day planing a magistrate’s bench which he was repairing, with more than usual carefulness; and when asked the reason, he replied, “Because I wish to make it easy against the time when I come to sit upon it myself.” And singularly enough, the man actually lived to sit upon that very bench as a magistrate.
Whatever theoretical conclusions logicians may have formed as to the freedom of the will, each individual feels that practically he is free to choose between good and evil—that he is not as a mere straw thrown upon the water to mark the direction of the current, but that he has within him the power of a strong swimmer, and is capable of striking out for himself, of buffeting with the waves, and directing to a great extent his own independent course. There is no absolute constraint upon our volitions, and we feel and know that we are not bound, as by a spell, with reference to our actions. It would paralyze all desire of excellence were we to think otherwise. The entire business and conduct of life, with its domestic rules, its social arrangements, and its public institutions, proceed upon the practical conviction that the will is free. Without this where would be responsibility?--and what the advantage of teaching, advising, preaching, reproof, and correction? What were the use of laws, were it not the universal belief, as it is the universal fact, that men obey them or not, very much as they individually determine? In every moment of our life, conscience is proclaiming that our will is free. It is the only thing that is wholly ours, and it rests solely with ourselves individually, whether we give it the right or the wrong direction. Our habits or our temptations are not our masters, but we of them. Even in yielding, conscience tells us we might resist; and that were we determined to master them, there would not be required for that purpose a stronger resolution than we know ourselves to be capable of exercising.
“You are now at the age,” said Lamennais once, addressing a gay youth, “at which a decision must be formed by you; a little later, and you may have to groan within the tomb which you yourself have dug, without the power of rolling away the stone. That which the easiest becomes a habit in us is the will. Learn then to will strongly and decisively; thus fix your floating life, and leave it no longer to be carried hither and thither, like a withered leaf, by every wind that blows.”
Buxton held the conviction that a young man might be very much what he pleased, provided he formed a strong resolution and held to it. Writing to one of his sons, he said to him, “You are now at that period of life, in which you must make a turn to the right or the left. You must now give proofs of principle, determination, and strength of mind; or you must sink into idleness, and acquire the habits and character of a desultory, ineffective young man; and if once you fall to that point, you will find it no easy matter to rise again. I am sure that a young man may be very much what he pleases. In my own case it was so. . . . Much of my happiness, and all my prosperity in life, have resulted from the change I made at your age. If you seriously resolve to be energetic and industrious, depend upon it that you will for your whole life have reason to rejoice that you were wise enough to form and to act upon that determination.” As will, considered without regard to direction, is simply constancy, firmness, perseverance, it will be obvious that everything depends upon right direction and motives. Directed towards the enjoyment of the senses, the strong will may be a demon, and the intellect merely its debased slave; but directed towards good, the strong will is a king, and the intellect the minister of man’s highest well-being.
“Where there is a will there is a way,” is an old and true saying. He who resolves upon doing a thing, by that very resolution often scales the barriers to it, and secures its achievement. To think we are able, is almost to be so—to determine upon attainment is frequently attainment itself. Thus, earnest resolution has often seemed to have about it almost a savor of omnipotence. The strength of Suwarrow’s character lay in his power of willing, and, like most resolute persons, he preached it up as a system. “You can only half will,” he would say to people who failed. Like Richelieu and Napoleon, he would have the word “impossible” banished from the dictionary. “I don’t know,” “I can’t,” and “impossible,” were words which he detested above all others. “Learn! Do! Try!” he would exclaim. His biographer has said of him, that he furnished a remarkable illustration of what may be effected by the energetic development and exercise of faculties, the germs of which at least are in every human heart.
One of Napoleon’s favorite maxims was, “The truest wisdom is a resolute determination.” His life, beyond most others, vividly showed what a powerful and unscrupulous will could accomplish. He threw his whole force of body and mind direct upon his work. Imbecile rulers and the nations they governed went down before him in succession. He was told that the Alps stood in the way of his armies—“There shall be no Alps,” he said, and the road across the Simplon was constructed, through a district formerly almost inaccessible. “Impossible,” said he, “is a word only to be found in the dictionary of fools.” He was a man who toiled terribly; sometimes employing and exhausting four secretaries at a time. He spared no one, not even himself. His influence inspired other men, and put a new life into them. “I made my generals out of mud,” he said. But all was of no avail; for Napoleon’s intense selfishness was his ruin, and the ruin of France, which he left a prey to anarchy. His life taught the lesson that power, however energetically wielded, without beneficence, is fatal to its possessor and its subjects; and that knowledge, or knowingness, without goodness, is but the incarnate principle of Evil.
Our own Wellington was a far greater man. Not less resolute, firm, and persistent, but more self-denying, conscientious, and truly patriotic. Napoleon’s aim was “Glory;” Wellington’s watchword, like Nelson’s, was “Duty.” The former word, it is said, does not once occur in his despatches; the latter often, but never accompanied by any high-sounding professions. The greatest difficulties could neither embarrass nor intimidate Wellington; his energy invariably rising in proportion to the obstacles to be surmounted. The patience, the firmness, the resolution, with which he bore through the maddening vexations and gigantic difficulties of the Peninsular campaigns, is, perhaps, one of the sublimest things to be found in history. In Spain, Wellington not only exhibited the genius of the general, but the comprehensive wisdom of the statesman. Though his natural temper was irritable in the extreme, his high sense of duty enabled him to restrain it; and to those about him his patience seemed absolutely inexhaustible. His great character stands untarnished by ambition, by avarice, or any low passion. Though a man of powerful individuality, he yet displayed a great variety of endowment. The equal of Napoleon in generalship, he was as prompt, vigorous, and daring as Clive; as wise a statesman as Cromwell; and as pure and high-minded as Washington. The great Wellington left behind him an enduring reputation, founded on toilsome campaigns won by skilful combination, by fortitude which nothing could exhaust, by sublime daring, and perhaps by still sublimer patience.
Energy usually displays itself in promptitude and decision. When Ledyard the traveler was asked by the African Association when he would be ready to set out for Africa, he immediately answered, “To-morrow morning.” Blucher’s promptitude obtained for him the cognomen of “Marshal Forwards” throughout the Prussian army. When John Jervis, afterwards Earl St. Vincent, was asked when he would be ready to join his ship, he replied, “Directly.” And when Sir Colin Campbell, appointed to the command of the Indian army, was asked when he could set out, his answer was, “To-morrow,”—an earnest of his subsequent success. For it is rapid decision, and a similar promptitude in action, such as taking instant advantage of an enemy’s mistakes, that so often wins battles. “At Arcola,” said Napoleon, “I won the battle with twenty-five horsemen. I seized a moment of lassitude, gave every man a trumpet, and gained the day with this handful. Two armies are two bodies which meet and endeavor to frighten each other: a moment of panic occurs, and THAT MOMENT must be turned to advantage.” “Every moment lost,” said he at another time, “gives an opportunity for misfortune;” and he declared that he beat the Austrians because they never knew the value of time: while they dawdled, he overthrew them.
India has, during the last century, been a great field for the display of British energy. From Clive to Havelock and Clyde there is a long and honorable roll of distinguished names in Indian legislation and warfare,--such as Wellesley, Metcalfe, Outram, Edwardes, and the Lawrences. Another great but sullied name is that of Warren Hastings—a man of dauntless will and indefatigable industry. His family was ancient and illustrious; but their vicissitudes of fortune and ill-requited loyalty in the cause of the Stuarts, brought them to poverty, and the family estate at Daylesford, of which they had been lords of the manor for hundreds of years, at length passed from their hands. The last Hastings of Daylesford had, however, presented the parish living to his second son; and it was in his house, many years later, that Warren Hastings, his grandson, was born. The boy learnt his letters at the village school, on the same bench with the children of the peasantry. He played in the fields which his fathers had owned; and what the loyal and brave Hastings of Daylesford HAD been, was ever in the boy’s thoughts. His young ambition was fired, and it is said that one summer’s day, when only seven years old, as he laid him down on the bank of the stream which flowed through the domain, he formed in his mind the resolution that he would yet recover possession of the family lands. It was the romantic vision of a boy; yet he lived to realize it. The dream became a passion, rooted in his very life; and he pursued his determination through youth up to manhood, with that calm but indomitable force of will which was the most striking peculiarity of his character. The orphan boy became one of the most powerful men of his time; he retrieved the fortunes of his line; bought back the old estate, and rebuilt the family mansion. “When, under a tropical sun,” says Macaulay, “he ruled fifty millions of Asiatics, his hopes, amidst all the cares of war, finance, and legislation, still pointed to Daylesford. And when his long public life, so singularly chequered with good and evil, with glory and obloquy, had at length closed for ever, it was to Daylesford that he retired to die.”
Sir Charles Napier was another Indian leader of extraordinary courage and determination. He once said of the difficulties with which he was surrounded in one of his campaigns, “They only make my feet go deeper into the ground.” His battle of Meeanee was one of the most extraordinary feats in history. With 2000 men, of whom only 400 were Europeans, he encountered an army of 35,000 hardy and well-armed Beloochees. It was an act, apparently, of the most daring temerity, but the general had faith in himself and in his men. He charged the Belooch centre up a high bank which formed their rampart in front, and for three mortal hours the battle raged. Each man of that small force, inspired by the chief, became for the time a hero. The Beloochees, though twenty to one, were driven back, but with their faces to the foe. It is this sort of pluck, tenacity, and determined perseverance which wins soldiers’ battles, and, indeed, every battle. It is the one neck nearer that wins the race and shows the blood; it is the one march more that wins the campaign; the five minutes’ more persistent courage that wins the fight. Though your force be less than another’s, you equal and outmaster your opponent if you continue it longer and concentrate it more. The reply of the Spartan father, who said to his son, when complaining that his sword was too short, “Add a step to it,” is applicable to everything in life.
Napier took the right method of inspiring his men with his own heroic spirit. He worked as hard as any private in the ranks. “The great art of commanding,” he said, “is to take a fair share of the work. The man who leads an army cannot succeed unless his whole mind is thrown into his work. The more trouble, the more labor must be given; the more danger, the more pluck must be shown, till all is overpowered.” A young officer who accompanied him in his campaign in the Cutchee Hills, once said, “When I see that old man incessantly on his horse, how can I be idle who am young and strong? I would go into a loaded cannon’s mouth if he ordered me.” This remark, when repeated to Napier, he said was ample reward for his toils. The anecdote of his interview with the Indian juggler strikingly illustrates his cool courage as well as his remarkable simplicity and honesty of character. On one occasion, after the Indian battles, a famous juggler visited the camp and performed his feats before the General, his family, and staff. Among other performances, this man cut in two with a stroke of his sword a lime or lemon placed in the hand of his assistant. Napier thought there was some collusion between the juggler and his retainer. To divide by a sweep of the sword on a man’s hand so small an object without touching the flesh he believed to be impossible, though a similar incident is related by Scott in his romance of the ‘Talisman.’ To determine the point, the General offered his own hand for the experiment, and he stretched out his right arm. The juggler looked attentively at the hand, and said he would not make the trial. “I thought I would find you out!” exclaimed Napier. “But stop,” added the other, “let me see your left hand.” The left hand was submitted, and the man then said firmly, “If you will hold your arm steady I will perform the feat.” “But why the left hand and not the right?” “Because the right hand is hollow in the centre, and there is a risk of cutting off the thumb; the left is high, and the danger will be less.” Napier was startled. “I got frightened,” he said; “I saw it was an actual feat of delicate swordsmanship, and if I had not abused the man as I did before my staff, and challenged him to the trial, I honestly acknowledge I would have retired from the encounter. However, I put the lime on my hand, and held out my arm steadily. The juggler balanced himself, and, with a swift stroke cut the lime in two pieces. I felt the edge of the sword on my hand as if a cold thread had been drawn across it. So much (he added) for the brave swordsmen of India, whom our fine fellows defeated at Meeanee.”
The recent terrible struggle in India has served to bring out, perhaps more prominently than any previous event in our history, the determined energy and self-reliance of the national character. Although English officialism may often drift stupidly into gigantic blunders, the men of the nation generally contrive to work their way out of them with a heroism almost approaching the sublime. In May, 1857, when the revolt burst upon India like a thunder-clap, the British forces had been allowed to dwindle to their extreme minimum, and were scattered over a wide extent of country, many of them in remote cantonments. The Bengal regiments, one after another, rose against their officers, broke away, and rushed to Delhi. Province after province was lapped in mutiny and rebellion; and the cry for help rose from east to west. Everywhere the English stood at bay in small detachments, beleaguered and surrounded, apparently incapable of resistance. Their discomfiture seemed so complete, and the utter ruin of the British cause in India so certain, that it might be said of them then, as it had been said before, “These English never know when they are beaten.” According to rule, they ought then and there to have succumbed to inevitable fate.
While the issue of the mutiny still appeared uncertain, Holkar, one of the native princes, consulted his astrologer for information. The reply was, “If all the Europeans save one are slain, that one will remain to fight and re-conquer.” In their very darkest moment--even where, as at Lucknow, a mere handful of British soldiers, civilians, and women, held out amidst a city and province in arms against them—there was no word of despair, no thought of surrender. Though cut off from all communication with their friends for months, and not knowing whether India was lost or held, they never ceased to have perfect faith in the courage and devotedness of their countrymen. They knew that while a body of men of English race held together in India, they would not be left unheeded to perish. They never dreamt of any other issue but retrieval of their misfortune and ultimate triumph; and if the worst came to the worst, they could but fall at their post, and die in the performance of their duty. Need we remind the reader of the names of Havelock, Inglis, Neill, and Outram—men of truly heroic mould—of each of whom it might with truth be said that he had the heart of a chevalier, the soul of a believer, and the temperament of a martyr. Montalembert has said of them that “they do honor to the human race.” But throughout that terrible trial almost all proved equally great—women, civilians and soldiers—from the general down through all grades to the private and bugleman. The men were not picked: they belonged to the same ordinary people whom we daily meet at home—in the streets, in workshops, in the fields, at clubs; yet when sudden disaster fell upon them, each and all displayed a wealth of personal resources and energy, and became as it were individually heroic. “Not one of them,” says Montalembert, “shrank or trembled—all, military and civilians, young and old, generals and soldiers, resisted, fought, and perished with a coolness and intrepidity which never faltered. It is in this circumstance that shines out the immense value of public education, which invites the Englishman from his youth to make use of his strength and his liberty, to associate, resist, fear nothing, to be astonished at nothing, and to save himself, by his own sole exertions, from every sore strait in life.”
It has been said that Delhi was taken and India saved by the personal character of Sir John Lawrence. The very name of “Lawrence” represented power in the North-West Provinces. His standard of duty, zeal, and personal effort, was of the highest; and every man who served under him seemed to be inspired by his spirit. It was declared of him that his character alone was worth an army. The same might be said of his brother Sir Henry, who organized the Punjab force that took so prominent a part in the capture of Delhi. Both brothers inspired those who were about them with perfect love and confidence. Both possessed that quality of tenderness, which is one of the true elements of the heroic character. Both lived amongst the people, and powerfully influenced them for good. Above all as Col. Edwardes says, “they drew models on young fellows’ minds, which they went forth and copied in their several administrations: they sketched a FAITH, and begot a SCHOOL, which are both living things at this day.” Sir John Lawrence had by his side such men as Montgomery, Nicholson, Cotton, and Edwardes, as prompt, decisive, and high-souled as himself. John Nicholson was one of the finest, manliest, and noblest of men—“every inch a hakim,” the natives said of him—“a tower of strength,” as he was characterized by Lord Dalhousie. In whatever capacity he acted he was great, because he acted with his whole strength and soul. A brotherhood of fakirs—borne away by their enthusiastic admiration of the man—even began the worship of Nikkil Seyn: he had some of them punished for their folly, but they continued their worship nevertheless. Of his sustained energy and persistency an illustration may be cited in his pursuit of the 55th Sepoy mutineers, when he was in the saddle for twenty consecutive hours, and traveled more than seventy miles. When the enemy set up their standard at Delhi, Lawrence and Montgomery, relying on the support of the people of the Punjab, and compelling their admiration and confidence, strained every nerve to keep their own province in perfect order, whilst they hurled every available soldier, European and Sikh, against that city. Sir John wrote to the commander-in-chief to “hang on to the rebels’ noses before Delhi,” while the troops pressed on by forced marches under Nicholson, “the tramp of whose war-horse might be heard miles off,” as was afterwards said of him by a rough Sikh who wept over his grave.
The siege and storming of Delhi was the most illustrious event which occurred in the course of that gigantic struggle, although the leaguer of Lucknow, during which the merest skeleton of a British regiment—the 32nd—held out, under the heroic Inglis, for six months against two hundred thousand armed enemies, has perhaps excited more intense interest. At Delhi, too, the British were really the besieged, though ostensibly the besiegers; they were a mere handful of men “in the open”—not more than 3,700 bayonets, European and native—and they were assailed from day to day by an army of rebels numbering at one time as many as 75,000 men, trained to European discipline by English officers, and supplied with all but exhaustless munitions of war. The heroic little band sat down before the city under the burning rays of a tropical sun. Death, wounds, and fever failed to turn them from their purpose. Thirty times they were attacked by overwhelming numbers, and thirty times did they drive back the enemy behind their defenses. As Captain Hodson—himself one of the bravest there—has said, “I venture to aver that no other nation in the world would have remained here, or avoided defeat if they had attempted to do so.” Never for an instant did these heroes falter at their work; with sublime endurance they held on, fought on, and never relaxed until, dashing through the “imminent deadly breach,” the place was won, and the British flag was again unfurled on the walls of Delhi. All were great—privates, officers, and generals. Common soldiers who had been inured to a life of hardship, and young officers who had been nursed in luxurious homes, alike proved their manhood, and emerged from that terrible trial with equal honor. The native strength and soundness of the English race, and of manly English training and discipline, were never more powerfully exhibited; and it was there emphatically proved that the Men of England are, after all, its greatest products. A terrible price was paid for this great chapter in our history, but if those who survive, and those who come after, profit by the lesson and example, it may not have been purchased at too great a cost.
But not less energy and courage have been displayed in India and the East by men of various nations, in other lines of action more peaceful and beneficent than that of war. And while the heroes of the sword are remembered, the heroes of the gospel ought not to be forgotten. From Xavier to Martyn and Williams, there has been a succession of illustrious missionary laborers, working in a spirit of sublime self-sacrifice, without any thought of worldly honor, inspired solely by the hope of seeking out and rescuing the lost and fallen of their race. Borne up by invincible courage and never-failing patience, these men have endured privations, braved dangers, walked through pestilence, and borne all toils, fatigues, and sufferings, yet held on their way rejoicing, glorying even in martyrdom itself. Of these one of the first and most illustrious was Francis Xavier. Born of noble lineage, and with pleasure, power, and honor within his reach, he proved by his life that there are higher objects in the world than rank, and nobler aspirations than the accumulation of wealth. He was a true gentleman in manners and sentiment; brave, honorable, generous; easily led, yet capable of leading; easily persuaded, yet himself persuasive; a most patient, resolute and energetic man. At the age of twenty-two he was earning his living as a public teacher of philosophy at the University of Paris. There Xavier became the intimate friend and associate of Loyola, and shortly afterwards he conducted the pilgrimage of the first little band of proselytes to Rome.
When John III. of Portugal resolved to plant Christianity in the Indian territories subject to his influence, Bobadilla was first selected as his missionary; but being disabled by illness, it was found necessary to make another selection, and Xavier was chosen. Repairing his tattered cassock, and with no other baggage than his breviary, he at once started for Lisbon and embarked for the East. The ship in which he set sail for Goa had the Governor on board, with a reinforcement of a thousand men for the garrison of the place. Though a cabin was placed at his disposal, Xavier slept on deck throughout the voyage with his head on a coil of ropes, messing with the sailors. By ministering to their wants, inventing innocent sports for their amusement, and attending them in their sickness, he wholly won their hearts, and they regarded him with veneration.
Arrived at Goa, Xavier was shocked at the depravity of the people, settlers as well as natives; for the former had imported the vices without the restraints of civilization, and the latter had only been too apt to imitate their bad example. Passing along the streets of the city, sounding his handbell as he went, he implored the people to send him their children to be instructed. He shortly succeeded in collecting a large number of scholars, whom he carefully taught day by day, at the same time visiting the sick, the lepers, and the wretched of all classes, with the object of assuaging their miseries, and bringing them to the Truth. No cry of human suffering which reached him was disregarded. Hearing of the degradation and misery of the pearl fishers of Manaar, he set out to visit them, and his bell again rang out the invitation of mercy. He baptized and he taught, but the latter he could only do through interpreters. His most eloquent teaching was his ministration to the wants and the sufferings of the wretched.
On he went, his hand-bell sounding along the coast of Comorin, among the towns and villages, the temples and the bazaars, summoning the natives to gather about him and be instructed. He had translations made of the Catechism, the Apostles’ Creed, the Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and some of the devotional offices of the Church. Committing these to memory in their own tongue he recited them to the children, until they had them by heart; after which he sent them forth to teach the words to their parents and neighbors. At Cape Comorin, he appointed thirty teachers, who under himself presided over thirty Christian Churches, though the Churches were but humble, in most cases consisting only of a cottage surmounted by a cross. Thence he passed to Travancore, sounding his way from village to village, baptizing until his hands dropped with weariness, and repeating his formulas until his voice became almost inaudible. According to his own account, the success of his mission surpassed his highest expectations. His pure, earnest, and beautiful life, and the irresistible eloquence of his deeds, made converts wherever he went; and by sheer force of sympathy, those who saw him and listened to him insensibly caught a portion of his ardor.
Burdened with the thought that “the harvest is great and the laborers are few,” Xavier next sailed to Malacca and Japan, where he found himself amongst entirely new races speaking other tongues. The most that he could do here was to weep and pray, to smooth the pillow and watch by the sick-bed, sometimes soaking the sleeve of his surplice in water, from which to squeeze out a few drops and baptize the dying. Hoping all things, and fearing nothing, this valiant soldier of the truth was borne onward throughout by faith and energy. “Whatever form of death or torture,” said he, “awaits me, I am ready to suffer it ten thousand times for the salvation of a single soul.” He battled with hunger, thirst, privations and dangers of all kinds, still pursuing his mission of love, unresting and unwearying. At length, after eleven years’ labor, this great good man, while striving to find a way into China, was stricken with fever in the Island of Sanchian, and there received his crown of glory. A hero of nobler mould, more pure, self-denying, and courageous, has probably never trod this earth.
Other missionaries have followed Xavier in the same field of work, such as Schwartz, Carey, and Marshman in India; Gutzlaff and Morrison in China; Williams in the South Seas; Campbell, Moffatt and Livingstone in Africa. John Williams, the martyr of Erromanga, was originally apprenticed to a furnishing ironmonger. Though considered a dull boy, he was handy at his trade, in which he acquired so much skill that his master usually entrusted him with any blacksmiths work that required the exercise of more than ordinary care. He was also fond of bell-hanging and other employments which took him away from the shop. A casual sermon which he heard gave his mind a serious bias, and he became a Sunday-school teacher. The cause of missions having been brought under his notice at some of his society’s meetings, he determined to devote himself to this work. His services were accepted by the London Missionary Society; and his master allowed him to leave the ironmonger’s shop before the expiry of his indentures. The islands of the Pacific Ocean were the principal scene of his labors—more particularly Huahine in Tahiti, Raiatea, and Rarotonga. Like the Apostles he worked with his hands,--at blacksmith work, gardening, shipbuilding; and he endeavoured to teach the islanders the art of civilised life, at the same time that he instructed them in the truths of religion. It was in the course of his indefatigable labours that he was massacred by savages on the shore of Erromanga--none worthier than he to wear the martyr’s crown.
The career of Dr. Livingstone is one of the most interesting of all. He has told the story of his life in that modest and unassuming manner which is so characteristic of the man himself. His ancestors were poor but honest Highlanders, and it is related of one of them, renowned in his district for wisdom and prudence, that when on his death-bed he called his children round him and left them these words, the only legacy he had to bequeath—“In my life-time,” said he, “I have searched most carefully through all the traditions I could find of our family, and I never could discover that there was a dishonest man among our forefathers: if, therefore, any of you or any of your children should take to dishonest ways, it will not be because it runs in our blood; it does not belong to you: I leave this precept with you—Be honest.” At the age of ten Livingstone was sent to work in a cotton factory near Glasgow as a “piecer.” With part of his first week’s wages he bought a Latin grammar, and began to learn that language, pursuing the study for years at a night school. He would sit up conning his lessons till twelve or later, when not sent to bed by his mother, for he had to be up and at work in the factory every morning by six. In this way he plodded through Virgil and Horace, also reading extensively all books, excepting novels, that came in his way, but more especially scientific works and books of travels. He occupied his spare hours, which were but few, in the pursuit of botany, scouring the neighbourhood to collect plants. He even carried on his reading amidst the roar of the factory machinery, so placing the book upon the spinning jenny which he worked that he could catch sentence after sentence as he passed it. In this way the persevering youth acquired much useful knowledge; and as he grew older, the desire possessed him of becoming a missionary to the heathen. With this object he set himself to obtain a medical education, in order the better to be qualified for the work. He accordingly economised his earnings, and saved as much money as enabled him to support himself while attending the Medical and Greek classes, as well as the Divinity Lectures, at Glasgow, for several winters, working as a cotton spinner during the remainder of each year. He thus supported himself, during his college career, entirely by his own earnings as a factory workman, never having received a farthing of help from any other source. “Looking back now,” he honestly says, “at that life of toil, I cannot but feel thankful that it formed such a material part of my early education; and, were it possible, I should like to begin life over again in the same lowly style, and to pass through the same hardy training.” At length he finished his medical curriculum, wrote his Latin thesis, passed his examinations, and was admitted a licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons. At first he thought of going to China, but the war then waging with that country prevented his following out the idea; and having offered his services to the London Missionary Society, he was by them sent out to Africa, which he reached in 1840. He had intended to proceed to China by his own efforts; and he says the only pang he had in going to Africa at the charge of the London Missionary Society was, because “it was not quite agreeable to one accustomed to work his own way to become, in a manner, dependent upon others.” Arrived in Africa he set to work with great zeal. He could not brook the idea of merely entering upon the labours of others, but cut out a large sphere of independent work, preparing himself for it by undertaking manual labour in building and other handicraft employment, in addition to teaching, which, he says, “made me generally as much exhausted and unfit for study in the evenings as ever I had been when a cotton-spinner.” Whilst labouring amongst the Bechuanas, he dug canals, built houses, cultivated fields, reared cattle, and taught the natives to work as well as worship. When he first started with a party of them on foot upon a long journey, he overheard their observations upon his appearance and powers—“He is not strong,” said they; “he is quite slim, and only appears stout because he puts himself into those bags (trowsers): he will soon knock up.” This caused the missionary’s Highland blood to rise, and made him despise the fatigue of keeping them all at the top of their speed for days together, until he heard them expressing proper opinions of his pedestrian powers. What he did in Africa, and how he worked, may be learnt from his own ‘Missionary Travels,’ one of the most fascinating books of its kind that has ever been given to the public. One of his last known acts is thoroughly characteristic of the man. The ‘Birkenhead’ steam launch, which he took out with him to Africa, having proved a failure, he sent home orders for the construction of another vessel at an estimated cost of 2000l. This sum he proposed to defray out of the means which he had set aside for his children arising from the profits of his books of travels. “The children must make it up themselves,” was in effect his expression in sending home the order for the appropriation of the money.
The career of John Howard was throughout a striking illustration of the same power of patient purpose. His sublime life proved that even physical weakness could remove mountains in the pursuit of an end recommended by duty. The idea of ameliorating the condition of prisoners engrossed his whole thoughts and possessed him like a passion; and no toil, nor danger, nor bodily suffering could turn him from that great object of his life. Though a man of no genius and but moderate talent, his heart was pure and his will was strong. Even in his own time he achieved a remarkable degree of success; and his influence did not die with him, for it has continued powerfully to affect not only the legislation of England, but of all civilised nations, down to the present hour.
Jonas Hanway was another of the many patient and persevering men who have made England what it is—content simply to do with energy the work they have been appointed to do, and go to their rest thankfully when it is done -
“Leaving no memorial but a world
Made better by their lives.”
He was born in 1712, at Portsmouth, where his father, a storekeeper in the dockyard, being killed by an accident, he was left an orphan at an early age. His mother removed with her children to London, where she had them put to school, and struggled hard to bring them up respectably. At seventeen Jonas was sent to Lisbon to be apprenticed to a merchant, where his close attention to business, his punctuality, and his strict honour and integrity, gained for him the respect and esteem of all who knew him. Returning to London in 1743, he accepted the offer of a partnership in an English mercantile house at St. Petersburg engaged in the Caspian trade, then in its infancy. Hanway went to Russia for the purpose of extending the business; and shortly after his arrival at the capital he set out for Persia, with a caravan of English bales of cloth making twenty carriage loads. At Astracan he sailed for Astrabad, on the south-eastern shore of the Caspian; but he had scarcely landed his bales, when an insurrection broke out, his goods were seized, and though he afterwards recovered the principal part of them, the fruits of his enterprise were in a great measure lost. A plot was set on foot to seize himself and his party; so he took to sea and, after encountering great perils, reached Ghilan in safety. His escape on this occasion gave him the first idea of the words which he afterwards adopted as the motto of his life—“NEVER DESPAIR.” He afterwards resided in St. Petersburg for five years, carrying on a prosperous business. But a relative having left him some property, and his own means being considerable, he left Russia, and arrived in his native country in 1755. His object in returning to England was, as he himself expressed it, “to consult his own health (which was extremely delicate), and do as much good to himself and others as he was able.” The rest of his life was spent in deeds of active benevolence and usefulness to his fellow men. He lived in a quiet style, in order that he might employ a larger share of his income in works of benevolence. One of the first public improvements to which he devoted himself was that of the highways of the metropolis, in which he succeeded to a large extent. The rumour of a French invasion being prevalent in 1755, Mr. Hanway turned his attention to the best mode of keeping up the supply of seamen. He summoned a meeting of merchants and shipowners at the Royal Exchange, and there proposed to them to form themselves into a society for fitting out landsmen volunteers and boys, to serve on board the king’s ships. The proposal was received with enthusiasm: a society was formed, and officers were appointed, Mr. Hanway directing its entire operations. The result was the establishment in 1756 of The Marine Society, an institution which has proved of much national advantage, and is to this day of great and substantial utility. Within six years from its formation, 5451 boys and 4787 landsmen volunteers had been trained and fitted out by the society and added to the navy, and to this day it is in active operation, about 600 poor boys, after a careful education, being annually apprenticed as sailors, principally in the merchant service.
Mr. Hanway devoted the other portions of his spare time to improving or establishing important public institutions in the metropolis. From an early period he took an active interest in the Foundling Hospital, which had been started by Thomas Coram many years before, but which, by encouraging parents to abandon their children to the charge of a charity, was threatening to do more harm than good. He determined to take steps to stem the evil, entering upon the work in the face of the fashionable philanthropy of the time; but by holding to his purpose he eventually succeeded in bringing the charity back to its proper objects; and time and experience have proved that he was right. The Magdalen Hospital was also established in a great measure through Mr. Hanway’s exertions. But his most laborious and persevering efforts were in behalf of the infant parish poor. The misery and neglect amidst which the children of the parish poor then grew up, and the mortality which prevailed amongst them, were frightful; but there was no fashionable movement on foot to abate the suffering, as in the case of the foundlings. So Jonas Hanway summoned his energies to the task. Alone and unassisted he first ascertained by personal inquiry the extent of the evil. He explored the dwellings of the poorest classes in London, and visited the poorhouse sick wards, by which he ascertained the management in detail of every workhouse in and near the metropolis. He next made a journey into France and through Holland, visiting the houses for the reception of the poor, and noting whatever he thought might be adopted at home with advantage. He was thus employed for five years; and on his return to England he published the results of his observations. The consequence was that many of the workhouses were reformed and improved. In 1761 he obtained an Act obliging every London parish to keep an annual register of all the infants received, discharged, and dead; and he took care that the Act should work, for he himself superintended its working with indefatigable watchfulness. He went about from workhouse to workhouse in the morning, and from one member of parliament to another in the afternoon, for day after day, and for year after year, enduring every rebuff, answering every objection, and accommodating himself to every humour. At length, after a perseverance hardly to be equalled, and after nearly ten years’ labour, he obtained another Act, at his sole expense (7 Geo. III. c. 39), directing that all parish infants belonging to the parishes within the bills of mortality should not be nursed in the workhouses, but be sent to nurse a certain number of miles out of town, until they were six years old, under the care of guardians to be elected triennially. The poor people called this “the Act for keeping children alive;” and the registers for the years which followed its passing, as compared with those which preceded it, showed that thousands of lives had been preserved through the judicious interference of this good and sensible man.
Wherever a philanthropic work was to be done in London, be sure that Jonas Hanway’s hand was in it. One of the first Acts for the protection of chimney-sweepers’ boys was obtained through his influence. A destructive fire at Montreal, and another at Bridgetown, Barbadoes, afforded him the opportunity for raising a timely subscription for the relief of the sufferers. His name appeared in every list, and his disinterestedness and sincerity were universally recognized. But he was not suffered to waste his little fortune entirely in the service of others. Five leading citizens of London, headed by Mr. Hoare, the banker, without Mr. Hanway’s knowledge, waited on Lord Bute, then prime minister, in a body, and in the names of their fellow-citizens requested that some notice might be taken of this good man’s disinterested services to his country. The result was, his appointment shortly after, as one of the commissioners for victualling the navy.
Towards the close of his life Mr. Hanway’s health became very feeble, and although he found it necessary to resign his office at the Victualling Board, he could not be idle; but laboured at the establishment of Sunday Schools,--a movement then in its infancy,-- or in relieving poor blacks, many of whom wandered destitute about the streets of the metropolis,--or, in alleviating the sufferings of some neglected and destitute class of society. Notwithstanding his familiarity with misery in all its shapes, he was one of the most cheerful of beings; and, but for his cheerfulness he could never, with so delicate a frame, have got through so vast an amount of self-imposed work. He dreaded nothing so much as inactivity. Though fragile, he was bold and indefatigable; and his moral courage was of the first order. It may be regarded as a trivial matter to mention that he was the first who ventured to walk the streets of London with an umbrella over his head. But let any modern London merchant venture to walk along Cornhill in a peaked Chinese hat, and he will find it takes some degree of moral courage to persevere in it. After carrying an umbrella for thirty years, Mr. Hanway saw the article at length come into general use.
Hanway was a man of strict honour, truthfulness, and integrity; and every word he said might be relied upon. He had so great a respect, amounting almost to a reverence, for the character of the honest merchant, that it was the only subject upon which he was ever seduced into a eulogium. He strictly practised what he professed, and both as a merchant, and afterwards as a commissioner for victualling the navy, his conduct was without stain. He would not accept the slightest favour of any sort from a contractor; and when any present was sent to him whilst at the Victualling Office, he would politely return it, with the intimation that “he had made it a rule not to accept anything from any person engaged with the office.” When he found his powers failing, he prepared for death with as much cheerfulness as he would have prepared himself for a journey into the country. He sent round and paid all his tradesmen, took leave of his friends, arranged his affairs, had his person neatly disposed of, and parted with life serenely and peacefully in his 74th year. The property which he left did not amount to two thousand pounds, and, as he had no relatives who wanted it, he divided it amongst sundry orphans and poor persons whom he had befriended during his lifetime. Such, in brief, was the beautiful life of Jonas Hanway,--as honest, energetic, hard-working, and true-hearted a man as ever lived.
The life of Granville Sharp is another striking example of the same power of individual energy—a power which was afterwards transfused into the noble band of workers in the cause of Slavery Abolition, prominent among whom were Clarkson, Wilberforce, Buxton, and Brougham. But, giants though these men were in this cause, Granville Sharp was the first, and perhaps the greatest of them all, in point of perseverance, energy, and intrepidity. He began life as apprentice to a linen-draper on Tower Hill; but, leaving that business after his apprenticeship was out, he next entered as a clerk in the Ordnance Office; and it was while engaged in that humble occupation that he carried on in his spare hours the work of Negro Emancipation. He was always, even when an apprentice, ready to undertake any amount of volunteer labour where a useful purpose was to be served. Thus, while learning the linen-drapery business, a fellow apprentice who lodged in the same house, and was a Unitarian, led him into frequent discussions on religious subjects. The Unitarian youth insisted that Granville’s Trinitarian misconception of certain passages of Scripture arose from his want of acquaintance with the Greek tongue; on which he immediately set to work in his evening hours, and shortly acquired an intimate knowledge of Greek. A similar controversy with another fellow-apprentice, a Jew, as to the interpretation of the prophecies, led him in like manner to undertake and overcome the difficulties of Hebrew.
But the circumstance which gave the bias and direction to the main labours of his life originated in his generosity and benevolence. His brother William, a surgeon in Mincing Lane, gave gratuitous advice to the poor, and amongst the numerous applicants for relief at his surgery was a poor African named Jonathan Strong. It appeared that the negro had been brutally treated by his master, a Barbadoes lawyer then in London, and became lame, almost blind, and unable to work; on which his owner, regarding him as of no further value as a chattel, cruelly turned him adrift into the streets to starve. This poor man, a mass of disease, supported himself by begging for a time, until he found his way to William Sharp, who gave him some medicine, and shortly after got him admitted to St. Bartholomew’s hospital, where he was cured. On coming out of the hospital, the two brothers supported the negro in order to keep him off the streets, but they had not the least suspicion at the time that any one had a claim upon his person. They even succeeded in obtaining a situation for Strong with an apothecary, in whose service he remained for two years; and it was while he was attending his mistress behind a hackney coach, that his former owner, the Barbadoes lawyer, recognized him, and determined to recover possession of the slave, again rendered valuable by the restoration of his health. The lawyer employed two of the Lord Mayor’s officers to apprehend Strong, and he was lodged in the Compter, until he could be shipped off to the West Indies. The negro, bethinking him in his captivity of the kind services which Granville Sharp had rendered him in his great distress some years before, despatched a letter to him requesting his help. Sharp had forgotten the name of Strong, but he sent a messenger to make inquiries, who returned saying that the keepers denied having any such person in their charge. His suspicions were roused, and he went forthwith to the prison, and insisted upon seeing Jonathan Strong. He was admitted, and recognized the poor negro, now in custody as a recaptured slave. Mr. Sharp charged the master of the prison at his own peril not to deliver up Strong to any person whatever, until he had been carried before the Lord Mayor, to whom Sharp immediately went, and obtained a summons against those persons who had seized and imprisoned Strong without a warrant. The parties appeared before the Lord Mayor accordingly, and it appeared from the proceedings that Strong’s former master had already sold him to a new one, who produced the bill of sale and claimed the negro as his property. As no charge of offence was made against Strong, and as the Lord Mayor was incompetent to deal with the legal question of Strong’s liberty or otherwise, he discharged him, and the slave followed his benefactor out of court, no one daring to touch him. The man’s owner immediately gave Sharp notice of an action to recover possession of his negro slave, of whom he declared he had been robbed.
About that time (1767), the personal liberty of the Englishman, though cherished as a theory, was subject to grievous infringements, and was almost daily violated. The impressment of men for the sea service was constantly practised, and, besides the press-gangs, there were regular bands of kidnappers employed in London and all the large towns of the kingdom, to seize men for the East India Company’s service. And when the men were not wanted for India, they were shipped off to the planters in the American colonies. Negro slaves were openly advertised for sale in the London and Liverpool newspapers. Rewards were offered for recovering and securing fugitive slaves, and conveying them down to certain specified ships in the river.
The position of the reputed slave in England was undefined and doubtful. The judgments which had been given in the courts of law were fluctuating and various, resting on no settled principle. Although it was a popular belief that no slave could breathe in England, there were legal men of eminence who expressed a directly contrary opinion. The lawyers to whom Mr. Sharp resorted for advice, in defending himself in the action raised against him in the case of Jonathan Strong, generally concurred in this view, and he was further told by Jonathan Strong’s owner, that the eminent Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, and all the leading counsel, were decidedly of opinion that the slave, by coming into England, did not become free, but might legally be compelled to return again to the plantations. Such information would have caused despair in a mind less courageous and earnest than that of Granville Sharp; but it only served to stimulate his resolution to fight the battle of the negroes’ freedom, at least in England. “Forsaken,” he said, “by my professional defenders, I was compelled, through the want of regular legal assistance, to make a hopeless attempt at self-defence, though I was totally unacquainted either with the practice of the law or the foundations of it, having never opened a law book (except the Bible) in my life, until that time, when I most reluctantly undertook to search the indexes of a law library, which my bookseller had lately purchased.”
The whole of his time during the day was occupied with the business of the ordnance department, where he held the most laborious post in the office; he was therefore under the necessity of conducting his new studies late at night or early in the morning. He confessed that he was himself becoming a sort of slave. Writing to a clerical friend to excuse himself for delay in replying to a letter, he said, “I profess myself entirely incapable of holding a literary correspondence. What little time I have been able to save from sleep at night, and early in the morning, has been necessarily employed in the examination of some points of law, which admitted of no delay, and yet required the most diligent researches and examination in my study.”
Mr. Sharp gave up every leisure moment that he could command during the next two years, to the close study of the laws of England affecting personal liberty,--wading through an immense mass of dry and repulsive literature, and making extracts of all the most important Acts of Parliament, decisions of the courts, and opinions of eminent lawyers, as he went along. In this tedious and protracted inquiry he had no instructor, nor assistant, nor adviser. He could not find a single lawyer whose opinion was favourable to his undertaking. The results of his inquiries were, however, as gratifying to himself, as they were surprising to the gentlemen of the law. “God be thanked,” he wrote, “there is nothing in any English law or statute—at least that I am able to find out—that can justify the enslaving of others.” He had planted his foot firm, and now he doubted nothing. He drew up the result of his studies in a summary form; it was a plain, clear, and manly statement, entitled, ‘On the Injustice of Tolerating Slavery in England;’ and numerous copies, made by himself, were circulated by him amongst the most eminent lawyers of the time. Strong’s owner, finding the sort of man he had to deal with, invented various pretexts for deferring the suit against Sharp, and at length offered a compromise, which was rejected. Granville went on circulating his manuscript tract among the lawyers, until at length those employed against Jonathan Strong were deterred from proceeding further, and the result was, that the plaintiff was compelled to pay treble costs for not bringing forward his action. The tract was then printed in 1769.
In the mean time other cases occurred of the kidnapping of negroes in London, and their shipment to the West Indies for sale. Wherever Sharp could lay hold of any such case, he at once took proceedings to rescue the negro. Thus the wife of one Hylas, an African, was seized, and despatched to Barbadoes; on which Sharp, in the name of Hylas, instituted legal proceedings against the aggressor, obtained a verdict with damages, and Hylas’s wife was brought back to England free.
Another forcible capture of a negro, attended with great cruelty, having occurred in 1770, he immediately set himself on the track of the aggressors. An African, named Lewis, was seized one dark night by two watermen employed by the person who claimed the negro as his property, dragged into the water, hoisted into a boat, where he was gagged, and his limbs were tied; and then rowing down river, they put him on board a ship bound for Jamaica, where he was to be sold for a slave upon his arrival in the island. The cries of the poor negro had, however, attracted the attention of some neighbours; one of whom proceeded direct to Mr. Granville Sharp, now known as the negro’s friend, and informed him of the outrage. Sharp immediately got a warrant to bring back Lewis, and he proceeded to Gravesend, but on arrival there the ship had sailed for the Downs. A writ of Habeas Corpus was obtained, sent down to Spithead, and before the ship could leave the shores of England the writ was served. The slave was found chained to the main-mast bathed in tears, casting mournful looks on the land from which he was about to be torn. He was immediately liberated, brought back to London, and a warrant was issued against the author of the outrage. The promptitude of head, heart, and hand, displayed by Mr. Sharp in this transaction could scarcely have been surpassed, and yet he accused himself of slowness. The case was tried before Lord Mansfield—whose opinion, it will be remembered, had already been expressed as decidedly opposed to that entertained by Granville Sharp. The judge, however, avoided bringing the question to an issue, or offering any opinion on the legal question as to the slave’s personal liberty or otherwise, but discharged the negro because the defendant could bring no evidence that Lewis was even nominally his property.
The question of the personal liberty of the negro in England was therefore still undecided; but in the mean time Mr. Sharp continued steady in his benevolent course, and by his indefatigable exertions and promptitude of action, many more were added to the list of the rescued. At length the important case of James Somerset occurred; a case which is said to have been selected, at the mutual desire of Lord Mansfield and Mr. Sharp, in order to bring the great question involved to a clear legal issue. Somerset had been brought to England by his master, and left there. Afterwards his master sought to apprehend him and send him off to Jamaica, for sale. Mr. Sharp, as usual, at once took the negro’s case in hand, and employed counsel to defend him. Lord Mansfield intimated that the case was of such general concern, that he should take the opinion of all the judges upon it. Mr. Sharp now felt that he would have to contend with all the force that could be brought against him, but his resolution was in no wise shaken. Fortunately for him, in this severe struggle, his exertions had already begun to tell: increasing interest was taken in the question, and many eminent legal gentlemen openly declared themselves to be upon his side.
The cause of personal liberty, now at stake, was fairly tried before Lord Mansfield, assisted by the three justices,--and tried on the broad principle of the essential and constitutional right of every man in England to the liberty of his person, unless forfeited by the law. It is unnecessary here to enter into any account of this great trial; the arguments extended to a great length, the cause being carried over to another term,--when it was adjourned and re-adjourned,--but at length judgment was given by Lord Mansfield, in whose powerful mind so gradual a change had been worked by the arguments of counsel, based mainly on Granville Sharp’s tract, that he now declared the court to be so clearly of one opinion, that there was no necessity for referring the case to the twelve judges. He then declared that the claim of slavery never can be supported; that the power claimed never was in use in England, nor acknowledged by the law; therefore the man James Somerset must be discharged. By securing this judgment Granville Sharp effectually abolished the Slave Trade until then carried on openly in the streets of Liverpool and London. But he also firmly established the glorious axiom, that as soon as any slave sets his foot on English ground, that moment he becomes free; and there can be no doubt that this great decision of Lord Mansfield was mainly owing to Mr. Sharp’s firm, resolute, and intrepid prosecution of the cause from the beginning to the end.
It is unnecessary further to follow the career of Granville Sharp. He continued to labour indefatigably in all good works. He was instrumental in founding the colony of Sierra Leone as an asylum for rescued negroes. He laboured to ameliorate the condition of the native Indians in the American colonies. He agitated the enlargement and extension of the political rights of the English people; and he endeavoured to effect the abolition of the impressment of seamen. Granville held that the British seamen, as well as the African negro, was entitled to the protection of the law; and that the fact of his choosing a seafaring life did not in any way cancel his rights and privileges as an Englishman—first amongst which he ranked personal freedom. Mr. Sharp also laboured, but ineffectually, to restore amity between England and her colonies in America; and when the fratricidal war of the American Revolution was entered on, his sense of integrity was so scrupulous that, resolving not in any way to be concerned in so unnatural a business, he resigned his situation at the Ordnance Office.
To the last he held to the great object of his life—the abolition of slavery. To carry on this work, and organize the efforts of the growing friends of the cause, the Society for the Abolition of Slavery was founded, and new men, inspired by Sharp’s example and zeal, sprang forward to help him. His energy became theirs, and the self-sacrificing zeal in which he had so long laboured single-handed, became at length transfused into the nation itself. His mantle fell upon Clarkson, upon Wilberforce, upon Brougham, and upon Buxton, who laboured as he had done, with like energy and stedfastness of purpose, until at length slavery was abolished throughout the British dominions. But though the names last mentioned may be more frequently identified with the triumph of this great cause, the chief merit unquestionably belongs to Granville Sharp. He was encouraged by none of the world’s huzzas when he entered upon his work. He stood alone, opposed to the opinion of the ablest lawyers and the most rooted prejudices of the times; and alone he fought out, by his single exertions, and at his individual expense, the most memorable battle for the constitution of this country and the liberties of British subjects, of which modern times afford a record. What followed was mainly the consequence of his indefatigable constancy. He lighted the torch which kindled other minds, and it was handed on until the illumination became complete.
Before the death of Granville Sharp, Clarkson had already turned his attention to the question of Negro Slavery. He had even selected it for the subject of a college Essay; and his mind became so possessed by it that he could not shake it off. The spot is pointed out near Wade’s Mill, in Hertfordshire, where, alighting from his horse one day, he sat down disconsolate on the turf by the road side, and after long thinking, determined to devote himself wholly to the work. He translated his Essay from Latin into English, added fresh illustrations, and published it. Then fellow labourers gathered round him. The Society for Abolishing the Slave Trade, unknown to him, had already been formed, and when he heard of it he joined it. He sacrificed all his prospects in life to prosecute this cause. Wilberforce was selected to lead in parliament; but upon Clarkson chiefly devolved the labour of collecting and arranging the immense mass of evidence offered in support of the abolition. A remarkable instance of Clarkson’s sleuth-hound sort of perseverance may be mentioned. The abettors of slavery, in the course of their defence of the system, maintained that only such negroes as were captured in battle were sold as slaves, and if not so sold, then they were reserved for a still more frightful doom in their own country. Clarkson knew of the slave-hunts conducted by the slave-traders, but had no witnesses to prove it. Where was one to be found? Accidentally, a gentleman whom he met on one of his journeys informed him of a young sailor, in whose company he had been about a year before, who had been actually engaged in one of such slave-hunting expeditions. The gentleman did not know his name, and could but indefinitely describe his person. He did not know where he was, further than that he belonged to a ship of war in ordinary, but at what port he could not tell. With this mere glimmering of information, Clarkson determined to produce this man as a witness. He visited personally all the seaport towns where ships in ordinary lay; boarded and examined every ship without success, until he came to the very LAST port, and found the young man, his prize, in the very LAST ship that remained to be visited. The young man proved to be one of his most valuable and effective witnesses.
During several years Clarkson conducted a correspondence with upwards of four hundred persons, travelling more than thirty-five thousand miles during the same time in search of evidence. He was at length disabled and exhausted by illness, brought on by his continuous exertions; but he was not borne from the field until his zeal had fully awakened the public mind, and excited the ardent sympathies of all good men on behalf of the slave.
After years of protracted struggle, the slave trade was abolished. But still another great achievement remained to be accomplished— the abolition of slavery itself throughout the British dominions. And here again determined energy won the day. Of the leaders in the cause, none was more distinguished than Fowell Buxton, who took the position formerly occupied by Wilberforce in the House of Commons. Buxton was a dull, heavy boy, distinguished for his strong self-will, which first exhibited itself in violent, domineering, and headstrong obstinacy. His father died when he was a child; but fortunately he had a wise mother, who trained his will with great care, constraining him to obey, but encouraging the habit of deciding and acting for himself in matters which might safely be left to him. His mother believed that a strong will, directed upon worthy objects, was a valuable manly quality if properly guided, and she acted accordingly. When others about her commented on the boy’s self-will, she would merely say, “Never mind—he is self-willed now—you will see it will turn out well in the end.” Fowell learnt very little at school, and was regarded as a dunce and an idler. He got other boys to do his exercises for him, while he romped and scrambled about. He returned home at fifteen, a great, growing, awkward lad, fond only of boating, shooting, riding, and field sports,--spending his time principally with the gamekeeper, a man possessed of a good heart,--an intelligent observer of life and nature, though he could neither read nor write. Buxton had excellent raw material in him, but he wanted culture, training, and development. At this juncture of his life, when his habits were being formed for good or evil, he was happily thrown into the society of the Gurney family, distinguished for their fine social qualities not less than for their intellectual culture and public-spirited philanthropy. This intercourse with the Gurneys, he used afterwards to say, gave the colouring to his life. They encouraged his efforts at self-culture; and when he went to the University of Dublin and gained high honours there, the animating passion in his mind, he said, “was to carry back to them the prizes which they prompted and enabled me to win.” He married one of the daughters of the family, and started in life, commencing as a clerk to his uncles Hanbury, the London brewers. His power of will, which made him so difficult to deal with as a boy, now formed the backbone of his character, and made him most indefatigable and energetic in whatever he undertook. He threw his whole strength and bulk right down upon his work; and the great giant—“Elephant Buxton” they called him, for he stood some six feet four in height—became one of the most vigorous and practical of men. “I could brew,” he said, “one hour,--do mathematics the next,--and shoot the next,--and each with my whole soul.” There was invincible energy and determination in whatever he did. Admitted a partner, he became the active manager of the concern; and the vast business which he conducted felt his influence through every fibre, and prospered far beyond its previous success. Nor did he allow his mind to lie fallow, for he gave his evenings diligently to self-culture, studying and digesting Blackstone, Montesquieu, and solid commentaries on English law. His maxims in reading were, “never to begin a book without finishing it;” “never to consider a book finished until it is mastered;” and “to study everything with the whole mind.”
When only thirty-two, Buxton entered parliament, and at once assumed that position of influence there, of which every honest, earnest, well-informed man is secure, who enters that assembly of the first gentlemen in the world. The principal question to which he devoted himself was the complete emancipation of the slaves in the British colonies. He himself used to attribute the interest which he early felt in this question to the influence of Priscilla Gurney, one of the Earlham family,--a woman of a fine intellect and warm heart, abounding in illustrious virtues. When on her deathbed, in 1821, she repeatedly sent for Buxton, and urged him “to make the cause of the slaves the great object of his life.” Her last act was to attempt to reiterate the solemn charge, and she expired in the ineffectual effort. Buxton never forgot her counsel; he named one of his daughters after her; and on the day on which she was married from his house, on the 1st of August, 1834,-- the day of Negro emancipation—after his Priscilla had been manumitted from her filial service, and left her father’s home in the company of her husband, Buxton sat down and thus wrote to a friend: “The bride is just gone; everything has passed off to admiration; and THERE IS NOT A SLAVE IN THE BRITISH COLONIES!”
Buxton was no genius—not a great intellectual leader nor discoverer, but mainly an earnest, straightforward, resolute, energetic man. Indeed, his whole character is most forcibly expressed in his own words, which every young man might well stamp upon his soul: “The longer I live,” said he, “the more I am certain that the great difference between men, between the feeble and the powerful, the great and the insignificant, is ENERGY—INVINCIBLE DETERMINATION—a purpose once fixed, and then death or victory! That quality will do anything that can be done in this world; and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities, will make a two-legged creature a Man without it.”
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