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THE GREAT ANTI-SLAVERY CONVENTION.
EARLY in 1840, the committee of the new Association issued an invitation to the friends of freedom and humanity in all countries of Christendom to a general conference in London, as this document expresses it, “in order to deliberate on the best means of promoting the interests of the slave, of obtaining his immediate and unconditional freedom, and by every pacific measure to hasten the utter extinction of the slave-trade. To this conference they earnestly invite the friends of the slave, of every nation and of every clime.”
But it may readily be imagined that to ensure the success of such a project, much more was necessary than the issuing of circulars, however earnest and importunate. Nothing but the living fire of intense personal zeal and devotion, could suffice to kindle in the hearts of others, an interest strong enough to induce the exertions and sacrifices required for the occasion. And, indeed, the activity of mind and body which Mr. Sturge put forth at this time, in order to render the anticipated meeting effective, was truly marvellous. The result of all this care and labour was,
that a very generous response to the invitation of the committee was received, not only from all parts of the United Kingdom, but from the British Colonies, the continent of Europe, and the United States. The first meeting of the conference was held at Freemasons' Hall, on Friday, June 12th, 1840. The members began to assemble before ten o'clock, and by eleven o'clock the spacious hall was filled with a body of between five and six hundred delegates, together with a large number of visitors.
It was, indeed, a remarkable assembly. Those whose eyes are dazzled only by the glitter of rank and fashion, and worldly fame, might find little there to attract their attention or command their esteem ; but no man whose heart could be touched with sympathy for the wrongs of the oppressed, or with admiration for that noblest kind of heroism, which seeks its reward in the triumphs of humanity and mercy, could glance along those thronging benches without an emotion of singular interest and respect. For there was gathered no unworthy representation of the pledged philanthropy of earth. There might be seen the THE GREAT ANTI-SLAVERY CONVENTION. veteran champions of the cause of the slave in the British Parliament, Buxton, and Lushington, and O'Connell, and Villiers, the great name of Brougham only being wanting, his shattered health having obliged him to be content with only sending words of cordial greeting to his old allies, by letter. There were also the men, who, by their varied and vigorous eloquence, had evoked and organised the public sentiment out of doors, which had clothed their parliamentary leaders with such resistless power before the legislature ; men like John Burnett, and George Thompson, and John Scoble, and Samuel Bowly, and a score besides, hardly less worthy of mention, who had carried into every corner of the kingdom the sacred fire which had burst at length into such a blaze as to have illuminated the whole land.
There, likewise, were a faithful few among the faithless found of the literary men of our country—for, unhappily, it must be .confessed that the cause of emancipation in England has owed little to the influence of the fourth estate—in the persons of Thomas Campbell, and John Bowring, and Josiah Conder, and Colonel Thompson. The West Indies had sent William Knibb, and John Clark, and others, to represent the noble band of missionaries who had so long and bravely battled with the monster slavery on its own soil. From the United States had come some of the chosen men in that little gallant army of Abolitionists, who, amid infinite obloquy and scorn, were lifting up a banner in the name of the Lord, for righteousness and freedom in their own land ; among whom were Bimney and Stanton, Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, and “of honourable women not a few.” France had sent a considerable delegation, headed by the respected names of Isambert and Cremieux, who had already distinguished themselves in the senate and at the bar as the friends of the persecuted and oppressed. While, scattered throughout the room, might be seen scores and hundreds of the men and women, who, in all parts of the country, through evil report and good report, had, by their counsels, and efforts, and unsparing liberality, sustained the cause of those that were ready to perish, the large majority consisting of the members of that Society whose noblest distinction it is to have ever been the foremost apostles of freedom and philanthropy.
Over this assembly presided the venerable Thomas Clarkson, his body bent beneath the burden of more than eighty years, but his heart beating as warmly as ever for the cause of the enslaved ; while Joseph Sturge was felt by all to be the animating spirit of the scene, to whose influence and energy it was owing, in a main degree, that this large body of delegates had been brought together, whose ardent zeal pervaded every part of the proceedings, and whose gentle and generous temper did much to blend all elements into harmony.
The opening scene of the convention was one of the most solemn and thrilling ever witnessed in a public assembly. It has been described by Haydon, the painter, in language at once so picturesque and pathetic, that we cannot do better than borrow his words. He had been asked to attend professionally, to see whether such an assemblage might not be a fit subject for an historical picture. He had gone, as he acknowledges, reluctantly enough, with a little, probably, of that half contemptuous feeling with which men of his class too often look from a distance upon benevolent enterprises of this nature.
“On entering the meeting,” he says, “at the time appointed, I saw at once I was in the midst of no common assembly. The venerable and benevolent heads which surrounded me, soon convinced me that materials existed of character and expression in the members present, provided any one moment of pictorial interest should occur. In a few minutes an unaffected man got up, and informed the meeting that Thomas Clarkson would attend shortly ; he begged no tumultuous applause might greet his entrance, as his infirmities were great, and he was too nervous to bear, without risk of injury to his health, any such expressions of their good feeling towards him. The Friend who addressed them was Joseph Sturge, a man whose whole life has been devoted to ameliorate the condition of the unhappy.
“In a few minutes the aged Clarkson came in, grey and bent, leaning on Joseph Sturge for support, and approached with feeble and tottering steps the middle of the convention. I had never seen him before, nor had most of the foreigners present; and the anxiety to look on him betrayed by all, was exceedingly unaffected and sincere. Immediately behind Thomas Clarkson were his daughter-in-law, the widow of his son, and his little grandson.
“ Aided by Joseph Sturge and his daughter, Clarkson mounted to the chair, sat down in it as if to rest, and then in a tender, feeble voice, appealed to the assembly for a few minutes'
meditation before he opened the convention. The venerable old man put his hand simply to his forehead, as if in prayer, and the whole assembly followed his example ; for a minute there was the most intense silence I ever felt. Having inwardly uttered a short prayer, he was again helped up; and bending forward, leaning on the table, he spoke to the great assembly as a patriarch standing near the grave, or as a kind father who felt an interest for his children. Every word he uttered was from his heart—he spoke tenderly, tremulously ; and in alluding to Wilberforce, acknowledged, just as an aged man would acknowledge, his decay of memory in forgetting many other dear friends whom he could not then recollect. After solemnly urging the members to persevere to the last, till slavery was extinct, lifting his arm and pointing to heaven (his face quivering with emotion), he ended by saying :
May the Supreme Ruler of all human events, at whose disposal are not only the hearts, but the intellects of men, may He, in His abundant mercy, guide your councils and give His blessing upon
There was a pause of a moment, and then without an interchange of thought or even of look, the whole of this vast meeting, men and women, said, in a tone of subdued and deep feeling, ‘AMEN! AMEN !'
“ To the reader not present, it is scarcely possible to convey, without affectation, the effect on the imagination of one who, like myself, had never attended benevolent meetings, had no notion of such deep sincerity in any body of men, or of the awful and unaffected piety of the class I had been brought amongst. That deep-toned AMEN came on my mind like the knell of a departing curse ; I looked about me on the simple and extraordinary people, ever ready with their purse and their person, for the accomplishment of their great object; and if ever sound was an echo to the sense, or if ever deep and undaunted meaning was conveyed to the depths of the soul by sound alone, the death-warrant of slavery all over the earth was boded by that AMEN !
“I have seen the most afflicting tragedies, imitative and real, but never did I witness in life or in the drama, so deep, so touching, so pathetic an effect produced on any great assembly as by the few unaffected, unsophisticated words of this aged and agitated person. The women wept, the men shook off their tears, unable to prevent their flowing; for myself, I was so affected and astonished, that it was many minutes before I recovered sufficiently to perceive the moment of interest I had longed for had come to pass and this was the moment I immediately chose for the picture.”
There never, certainly, was an occasion on which the subject of slavery in every part of the world, and in all its aspects, relations, and influences, was brought before the public in so complete and comprehensive a manner as at this conference. Nor can it be doubted that it was the means of imparting a new impulse to the cause of emancipation throughout the civilised world.
Memoirs of Joseph Sturge.
TRUTH MUST AND WILL PREVAIL.
S. T. COLERIDGE.
MONSTERS and madmen' canonized, and Galileo blind in a dungeon! It is not so in our times. Heaven be praised that, in this respect at least, we are, if not better, yet BETTER OFF than our forefathers. But to what, and to whom (under Providence), do we owe the improvement ? To any radical change in the moral affections of mankind in general ? In order to answer these questions in the affirmative, I must forget the infamous empirics whose advertisements pollute and disgrace our newspapers, and almost paper the walls of our cities ; and the vending of whose poisons and poisonous drams (with shame and anguish be it spoken) supports a shop in every market-town! I must forget that other opprobrium of the nation, that mother vice, gambling, in whatever form it appears! I must forget that a numerous class plead prudence for keeping their fellow-men ignorant and incapable of intellectual enjoyment, and the revenue for upholding such temptations as men so ignorant will not withstand. Yes! that even senators and officers of state hold forth the revenue as a sufficient plea for upholding, at every fiftieth door in the kingdom, temptations to the most pernicious vices. . No! let us not deceive ourselves. Like the man who used to pull off his hat with great demonstration of respect whenever he spoke of himself, we are fond of styling our own the enlightened age; though, as Jortin, I think, has wittily remarked, the golden age would be more appropriate.