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Chapter 17: Virginia.

1N English eyes Virginia is a pleasant country, with an aspect that recalls the home-like hills in Kent. Her air is soft, her climate fine. How green her fields, how fresh her streams, how bright her. uplands! Fronting the sea, she faces all the world, and every port where trade is carried on lies open to her enterprise. Deep friths indent her shores and tides flow up her valleys. She is everywhere a water power. A thousand sparkling rills drop down her wooded heights. Her dells are cool with ponds and lakes, her ravines musical with steps, cascades, and falls. Down every hollow winds a rivulet, blessing the soil through which it flows, and carrying seaward the accumulating forest-trees-fuel for fire, planking for homestead, mast and spar for ship. But she has beauties of her own, the like of which we English only see in dreams. A ridge of apennines [176] bulges across the country, separating the fertile Shenandoah valley on the east from the enchanting Winchester valley on the west. These apennines are called the Blue Ridge, from the purple tinge which, in the twilight after sunset, deepens into blue, as dark as that of either Syrian sea or Grecian sky. Virginia's sun is bright, and in his brightness constant through the year. Fogs are unknown, mists seldom seen. This wealth of sunlight in the sky sheds wealth of colour on the landscape. Skies as clear, and streams as fresh, are found in many places; but the beauty of this range of mountain woods is hardly to be matched on earth.

Groups of hills start here and there beyond the chain of heights; one Alp called White Top Mountain, lifting its head above the line that Snowdon would attain if she were piled on the highest peak of the Cheviot Hills. These hills are clothed with pine and maple, oak, and chestnut, to their crowns. Their sides are all aglow; gold, orange, scarlet, crimson, russet; all the burning colours of the forest mingling in one common flame. The glory of the falling year is nowhere to be seen in such perfection as in these Virginian Apennines. [177]

Drop into this garden-you feel at home. This orchard is an English orchard; apples, pears, peaches, plums are all English fruit. Here is a potato-ridge; you pull the stalk and find it is an Irish plant. Here, too, are things well known at home, although not grown at home. In Surrey, these grapes would be under glass. These melons would not grow in an English garden; and these pippins and lady-apples, though often seen on English tables, are grown on this Virginian soil. Here we have maize ripening in one corner, tobacco in a second, pea-nuts and sweet potatoes in a third. These roots and fruits are homely things to us, yet homely in a far-off way, much as roses of Sharon and lilies of the valley are familiar to our thoughts. We draw nigh to them and feel at home among them, yet we recognise a sense of difference and of separation that clothes them with poetic charm.

Caught between two fires, burnt alike by North and South, Virginia suffered more in the civil feud than any other State. Nine years ago, when I was last in Richmond, the Capitol looked down on a heap of ruins. Main-street was gutted by fire. Masses of the city, blown up by gunpowder, lay in heaps [178] of charred rafters and blackened stones. A manufacturing suburb was completely wrecked. All works were stopped, hundreds of homes were roofless, every one was wanting bread. In every house there was a scowling brow, a flashing eye, a bitter tongue. A conquering soldiery filled the streets and held the Capitol as they are now holding the arsenal of New Orleans. Out of Richmond the case was not so bad as in the city, yet the war had scarred the country on every side; made a desert of the Blue Ridge, burnt up Fredericksburg, scorched the banks of York River, desolated the banks of the Rappahannock, and destroyed the fields and orchards round Petersburg. Few parts of Virginia had escaped the ravages of war.

Virginia's suffering was sharp, but her offences had been great and sore. To me Virginia is a pleasant place. I like her frank men, her lovely women. I cannot make up my mind to be harsh, even in judging her faults; yet I am bound to say that the physical wreck caused by the civil war only corresponded to the moral wreck caused by slavery.

Of all the Southern States Virginia was the worst. She had the least excuse for slavery, and she held [179] the largest number of men in bonds. She was the supreme Slave State. Georgia, Louisiana, and Alabama had some shadow of excuse. They wanted labour on their land-white labour, as they fancied, was impossible; and they could only get black labour by purchasing the Negro. If it was bad to own slaves, it was odious to breed them for the market. In Virginia there was no pretence that White men could not till the soil and reap the harvest, for the country is one of the healthiest on the American Continent. The air is dry. No marshes, and few stagnant pools exist. Ague, the plague of Georgia and Louisiana, is hardly known in Virginia. The rainfall corresponds to that of France, the sunshine to that of Sicily and Andaluz. A man accustomed to no greater change from heat to cold than he may feel in Surrey, finds the climate of Richmond and Winchester suit him. Winter is so mild that sheep are left out all the year with no more food and shelter than they get on hill-sides and in ravines.

This salubrity of the climate tempted the Virginians to convert their pleasant homesteads into breeding-grounds; into nurseries from which the [180] slave-markets of Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana might be fed. Lucre tempted them.

In many Southern States the Negro race began to fall off as soon as the African slave trade was suppressed. The waste of life was great; the power of natural growth was small. Unlike the European, a Negro has no vast and ever-widening vital force. Left to himself he will not multiply as Saxons multiply. But, when the Georgians found it cheaper to buy new slaves than to take care of old ones, Virginia gave her wealth, her intellect, and her possessions to the service of this impious cause. She took to slave-breeding as a business. Slaves multiplied like hogs, and in Virginia they were kept like hogs. They were not taught to read and write. A man. was seldom allowed to marry. In Kentucky a planter hardly ever sold a slave, thinking it mean, if not immoral; and the public feeling of his country was against the trade. But in Virginia no such shame was felt.

Rank was her sin, and stern has been her punishment. Like an enchantress she was taken in her beauty and her shame, and she is laden with the fetters, smitten by the sword, of an inflexible justice. [181] She is humbled to the dust. The iron eats into her flesh; the insult breaks her heart. She is no longer bold of brow. Thrown to the ground, her high and scornful spirit sank into the earth like water poured along a field of grass. For many a year to come she will not slip those fetters from her limbs, but she is easing herself under them, trying to feel her feet and free her arms.

The civil war was marked by many new and striking features, most of all in the practical results. A wealthy aristocracy was crushed; a vast community of slaves was freed. What other war has done so much? In servile wars, the slaves have always suffered by defeat. No servile war succeeds. Until the fall of Richmond, it is doubtful whether the sword had ever freed a single slave. Slaves rose in Sparta and Syracuse, in Alexandria and Rome, but they were crushed with merciless rigour. Gallic slaves rose under Clovis, and Tartar slaves under Alexis; but the end of every rising was a deeper fall, a sterner punishment, a harder rivetting of the servile chain. From Spartacus to Pugacheff, the leaders of servile insurrections have always failed. The case of Toussaint l'overture is no exception to [182] the rule, for the war in Hayti was political rather than servile, and in the long run Toussaint failed as Dessalines and Christophe also failed. When the war of secession broke out, emancipation by the sword was a new theory; and the overthrow of a powerful aristocracy for the benefit of their serfs was a thing unknown.

No such upheaval of society, as we now find along the vast regions stretching from the Potomac to the Gulf of Mexico, is on record in any nation; nor after such a convulsion can one expect to see the moral balance of society rapidly restored. We must be patient, for we have to wait on some of the most delicate movements of the human heart.

A man learns to hide his scars and sores; a woman will not learn. Women are never so heroic, so imprudent, as in defeat. They glory in their sufferings, and prepare the day of their revenge. In all these southern towns, the ladies keep alive the memory of fights in which their brothers and their lovers fell. You note an obelisk to some fallen brave. Who raised that shaft? The ladies. You observe a cairn in some deserted field. Who built that cairn? Ladies; still ladies. Here in Richmond [183] stands a pyramid; and the erectors of this pyramid were ladies, ever more ladies. Men forget, women protest.

That all these protests put the day of their recovery back we know, and all men know; but how are you to argue with impulsive and imperious politicians, who refute you with a glance, disarm you with a smile? A lovely Maryland girl used to make our London drawing-rooms ring with her scorn of “the northern scum.” You saw the tone was false, the feeling vicious, the passion fleeting; but that swelling voice was in your ear, and when you turned to her in hostile mood, a pair of flashing eyes were on your face. What could you do but run?

If strangers feel such pangs in dealing with these female patriots, even when he differs from them in opinion, how much more painful must it be for son or brother? It is a consolation to perceive that these Conservatives have a better and more wholesome side. If last to forget the old, women are first to begin the new. If ladies build pyramids, they also set the example of teaching in the public schools. [184]

Entering on a course of self-reform, Virginia is making efforts in the one way that is likely to be fruitful and enduring. She is educating her citizens for a. new career; a career of freedom and industry, in which she hopes to gain the sympathy and assistance of the old country. English in her heart, she is .perfectly American in her head. She thinks, and rightly thinks, that in the beauty of her landscape, in the fertility of her soil, in the salubrity of her climate, she has means of drawing towards herself the thoughts of many English families who are looking out for new homesteads and settlements. A better education for her old stock, a freer opening for new comers, are the two planks in her platform of improvement.

The first plank comes first. Virginia has an evil reputation in the world; and men might hesitate ere putting their money and their characters into the power of such rowdies as the old Virginian drunkards, duellists, and gamesters are reported to have been. Some members of these classes still remain. In article number three of the New Constitution there is a clause condemning duellists to loss of civil rights. [185] But is the article enforced? I grieve to say that public feeling is against the code.

Here are two gentlemen, Mosely and Paine, of good position in society, gentlemen who ought to set an example to people in Jackson Ward. They have a personal difference, and a challenge to fight passes between them. The authorities stand up, and talk of visiting the offenders with civil death; but Paine and Mosely are the darlings of society, and social sentiment is stronger than the law. In spite of their duel, Mosely and Paine are still in the enjoyment of their rights.

In time the code will prevail; but training in the school and sentiment in the drawing-room must go before concession in the club and sympathy in the street.

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