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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 12
    Previous Chapter
    _"A Change Came O'er the Spirit of My Dream"_

    HOW I LEARNED TO READ--MY MISTRESS--HER SLAVEHOLDING DUTIES--
    THEIR DEPLORABLE EFFECTS UPON HER ORIGINALLY NOBLE NATURE--THE
    CONFLICT IN HER MIND--HER FINAL OPPOSITION TO MY LEARNING TO
    READ--TOO LATE--SHE HAD GIVEN ME THE INCH, I WAS RESOLVED TO TAKE
    THE ELL--HOW I PURSUED MY EDUCATION--MY TUTORS--HOW I COMPENSATED
    THEM--WHAT PROGRESS I MADE--SLAVERY--WHAT I HEARD SAID ABOUT IT--
    THIRTEEN YEARS OLD--THE _Columbian Orator_--A RICH SCENE--A
    DIALOGUE--SPEECHES OF CHATHAM, SHERIDAN, PITT AND FOX--KNOWLEDGE
    EVER INCREASING--MY EYES OPENED--LIBERTY--HOW I PINED FOR IT--MY
    SADNESS--THE DISSATISFACTION OF MY POOR MISTRESS--MY HATRED OF
    SLAVERY--ONE UPAS TREE OVERSHADOWED US BOTH.

    I lived in the family of Master Hugh, at Baltimore, seven years,
    during which time--as the almanac makers say of the weather--my
    condition was variable. The most interesting feature of my
    history here, was my learning to read and write, under somewhat
    marked disadvantages. In attaining this knowledge, I was
    compelled to resort to indirections by no means congenial to my
    nature, and which were really humiliating to me. My mistress--
    who, as the reader has already seen, had begun to teach me was
    suddenly checked in her benevolent design, by the strong advice
    of her husband. In faithful compliance with this advice, the
    good lady had not only ceased to instruct me, herself, but had
    set her face as a flint against my learning to read by any means.
    It is due, however, to my mistress to say, that she did not adopt
    this course in all its stringency at the first. She either
    thought it unnecessary, or she lacked the depravity indispensable
    to shutting me up in MISTRESS>mental darkness. It was, at least, necessary for her to
    have some training, and some hardening, in the exercise of the
    slaveholder's prerogative, to make her equal to forgetting my
    human nature and character, and to treating me as a thing
    destitute of a moral or an intellectual nature. Mrs. Auld--my
    mistress--was, as I have said, a most kind and tender-hearted
    woman; and, in the humanity of her heart, and the simplicity of
    her mind, she set out, when I first went to live with her, to
    treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another.

    It is easy to see, that, in entering upon the duties of a
    slaveholder, some little experience is needed. Nature has done
    almost nothing to prepare men and women to be either slaves or
    slaveholders. Nothing but rigid training, long persisted in, can
    perfect the character of the one or the other. One cannot easily
    forget to love freedom; and it is as hard to cease to respect
    that natural love in our fellow creatures. On entering upon the
    career of a slaveholding mistress, Mrs. Auld was singularly
    deficient; nature, which fits nobody for such an office, had done
    less for her than any lady I had known. It was no easy matter to
    induce her to think and to feel that the curly-headed boy, who
    stood by her side, and even leaned on her lap; who was loved by
    little Tommy, and who loved little Tommy in turn; sustained to
    her only the relation of a chattel. I was _more_ than that, and
    she felt me to be more than that. I could talk and sing; I could
    laugh and weep; I could reason and remember; I could love and
    hate. I was human, and she, dear lady, knew and felt me to be
    so. How could she, then, treat me as a brute, without a mighty
    struggle with all the noble powers of her own soul. That
    struggle came, and the will and power of the husband was
    victorious. Her noble soul was overthrown; but, he that
    overthrew it did not, himself, escape the consequences. He, not
    less than the other parties, was injured in his domestic peace by
    the fall.

    When I went into their family, it was the abode of happiness and
    contentment. The mistress of the house was a model of
    affection and tenderness. Her fervent piety and watchful
    uprightness made it impossible to see her without thinking and
    feeling--"_that woman is a Christian_." There was no sorrow nor
    suffering for which she had not a tear, and there was no innocent
    joy for which she did not a smile. She had bread for the hungry,
    clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came
    within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her
    of these excellent qualities, and her home of its early
    happiness. Conscience cannot stand much violence. Once
    thoroughly broken down, _who_ is he that can repair the damage?
    It may be broken toward the slave, on Sunday, and toward the
    master on Monday. It cannot endure such shocks. It must stand
    entire, or it does not stand at all. If my condition waxed bad,
    that of the family waxed not better. The first step, in the
    wrong direction, was the violence done to nature and to
    conscience, in arresting the benevolence that would have
    enlightened my young mind. In ceasing to instruct me, she must
    begin to justify herself _to_ herself; and, once consenting to
    take sides in such a debate, she was riveted to her position.
    One needs very little knowledge of moral philosophy, to see
    _where_ my mistress now landed. She finally became even more
    violent in her opposition to my learning to read, than was her
    husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as
    _well_ as her husband had commanded her, but seemed resolved to
    better his instruction. Nothing appeared to make my poor
    mistress--after her turning toward the downward path--more angry,
    than seeing me, seated in some nook or corner, quietly reading a
    book or a newspaper. I have had her rush at me, with the utmost
    fury, and snatch from my hand such newspaper or book, with
    something of the wrath and consternation which a traitor might be
    supposed to feel on being discovered in a plot by some dangerous
    spy.

    Mrs. Auld was an apt woman, and the advice of her husband, and
    her own experience, soon demonstrated, to her entire
    satisfaction, that education and slavery are incompatible with
    each other. When this conviction was thoroughly established, I
    was most narrowly watched in all
    my movements. If I remained in a separate room from the family
    for any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected
    of having a book, and was at once called upon to give an account
    of myself. All this, however, was entirely _too late_. The
    first, and never to be retraced, step had been taken. In
    teaching me the alphabet, in the days of her simplicity and
    kindness, my mistress had given me the _"inch,"_ and now, no
    ordinary precaution could prevent me from taking the _"ell."_

    Seized with a determination to learn to read, at any cost, I hit
    upon many expedients to accomplish the desired end. The plea
    which I mainly adopted, and the one by which I was most
    successful, was that of using my young white playmates, with whom
    I met in the streets as teachers. I used to carry, almost
    constantly, a copy of Webster's spelling book in my pocket; and,
    when sent of errands, or when play time was allowed me, I would
    step, with my young friends, aside, and take a lesson in
    spelling. I generally paid my _tuition fee_ to the boys, with
    bread, which I also carried in my pocket. For a single biscuit,
    any of my hungry little comrades would give me a lesson more
    valuable to me than bread. Not every one, however, demanded this
    consideration, for there were those who took pleasure in teaching
    me, whenever I had a chance to be taught by them. I am strongly
    tempted to give the names of two or three of those little boys,
    as a slight testimonial of the gratitude and affection I bear
    them, but prudence forbids; not that it would injure me, but it
    might, possibly, embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable
    offense to do any thing, directly or indirectly, to promote a
    slave's freedom, in a slave state. It is enough to say, of my
    warm-hearted little play fellows, that they lived on Philpot
    street, very near Durgin & Bailey's shipyard.

    Although slavery was a delicate subject, and very cautiously
    talked about among grown up people in Maryland, I frequently
    talked about it--and that very freely--with the white boys. I
    would, sometimes, say to them, while seated on a curb stone
    or a cellar door, "I wish I could be free, as you will be when
    you get to be men." "You will be free, you know, as soon as you
    are twenty-one, and can go where you like, but I am a slave for
    life. Have I not as good a right to be free as you have?" Words
    like these, I observed, always troubled them; and I had no small
    satisfaction in wringing from the boys, occasionally, that fresh
    and bitter condemnation of slavery, that springs from nature,
    unseared and unperverted. Of all consciences let me have those
    to deal with which have not been bewildered by the cares of life.
    I do not remember ever to have met with a _boy_, while I was in
    slavery, who defended the slave system; but I have often had boys
    to console me, with the hope that something would yet occur, by
    which I might be made free. Over and over again, they have told
    me, that "they believed I had as good a right to be free as
    _they_ had;" and that "they did not believe God ever made any one
    to be a slave." The reader will easily see, that such little
    conversations with my play fellows, had no tendency to weaken my
    love of liberty, nor to render me contented with my condition as
    a slave.

    When I was about thirteen years old, and had succeeded in
    learning to read, every increase of knowledge, especially
    respecting the FREE STATES, added something to the almost
    intolerable burden of the thought--I AM A SLAVE FOR LIFE. To my
    bondage I saw no end. It was a terrible reality, and I shall
    never be able to tell how sadly that thought chafed my young
    spirit. Fortunately, or unfortunately, about this time in my
    life, I had made enough money to buy what was then a very popular
    school book, viz: the _Columbian Orator_. I bought this addition
    to my library, of Mr. Knight, on Thames street, Fell's Point,
    Baltimore, and paid him fifty cents for it. I was first led to
    buy this book, by hearing some little boys say they were going to
    learn some little pieces out of it for the Exhibition. This
    volume was, indeed, a rich treasure, and every opportunity
    afforded me, for a time,
    was spent in diligently perusing it. Among much other
    interesting matter, that which I had perused and reperused with
    unflagging satisfaction, was a short dialogue between a master
    and his slave. The slave is represented as having been
    recaptured, in a second attempt to run away; and the master opens
    the dialogue with an upbraiding speech, charging the slave with
    ingratitude, and demanding to know what he has to say in his own
    defense. Thus upbraided, and thus called upon to reply, the
    slave rejoins, that he knows how little anything that he can say
    will avail, seeing that he is completely in the hands of his
    owner; and with noble resolution, calmly says, "I submit to my
    fate." Touched by the slave's answer, the master insists upon
    his further speaking, and recapitulates the many acts of kindness
    which he has performed toward the slave, and tells him he is
    permitted to speak for himself. Thus invited to the debate, the
    quondam slave made a spirited defense of himself, and thereafter
    the whole argument, for and against slavery, was brought out.
    The master was vanquished at every turn in the argument; and
    seeing himself to be thus vanquished, he generously and meekly
    emancipates the slave, with his best wishes for his prosperity.
    It is scarcely neccessary{sic} to say, that a dialogue, with such
    an origin, and such an ending--read when the fact of my being a
    slave was a constant burden of grief--powerfully affected me; and
    I could not help feeling that the day might come, when the well-
    directed answers made by the slave to the master, in this
    instance, would find their counterpart in myself.

    This, however, was not all the fanaticism which I found in this
    _Columbian Orator_. I met there one of Sheridan's mighty
    speeches, on the subject of Catholic Emancipation, Lord Chatham's
    speech on the American war, and speeches by the great William
    Pitt and by Fox. These were all choice documents to me, and I
    read them, over and over again, with an interest that was ever
    increasing, because it was ever gaining in intelligence; for the
    more I read them, the better I understood them. The reading of
    these speeches added much to my limited stock of language,
    and enabled me to give tongue to many interesting thoughts, which
    had frequently flashed through my soul, and died away for want of
    utterance. The mighty power and heart-searching directness of
    truth, penetrating even the heart of a slaveholder, compelling
    him to yield up his earthly interests to the claims of eternal
    justice, were finely illustrated in the dialogue, just referred
    to; and from the speeches of Sheridan, I got a bold and powerful
    denunciation of oppression, and a most brilliant vindication of
    the rights of man. Here was, indeed, a noble acquisition. If I
    ever wavered under the consideration, that the Almighty, in some
    way, ordained slavery, and willed my enslavement for his own
    glory, I wavered no longer. I had now penetrated the secret of
    all slavery and oppression, and had ascertained their true
    foundation to be in the pride, the power and the avarice of man.
    The dialogue and the speeches were all redolent of the principles
    of liberty, and poured floods of light on the nature and
    character of slavery. With a book of this kind in my hand, my
    own human nature, and the facts of my experience, to help me, I
    was equal to a contest with the religious advocates of slavery,
    whether among the whites or among the colored people, for
    blindness, in this matter, is not confined to the former. I have
    met many religious colored people, at the south, who are under
    the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery, and to
    wear their chains with meekness and humility. I could entertain
    no such nonsense as this; and I almost lost my patience when I
    found any colored man weak enough to believe such stuff.
    Nevertheless, the increase of knowledge was attended with bitter,
    as well as sweet results. The more I read, the more I was led to
    abhor and detest slavery, and my enslavers. "Slaveholders,"
    thought I, "are only a band of successful robbers, who left their
    homes and went into Africa for the purpose of stealing and
    reducing my people to slavery." I loathed them as the meanest
    and the most wicked of men. As I read, behold! the very
    discontent so graphically predicted by Master
    Hugh, had already come upon me. I was no longer the light-
    hearted, gleesome boy, full of mirth and play, as when I landed
    first at Baltimore. Knowledge had come; light had penetrated the
    moral dungeon where I dwelt; and, behold! there lay the bloody
    whip, for my back, and here was the iron chain; and my good,
    _kind master_, he was the author of my situation. The revelation
    haunted me, stung me, and made me gloomy and miserable. As I
    writhed under the sting and torment of this knowledge, I almost
    envied my fellow slaves their stupid contentment. This knowledge
    opened my eyes to the horrible pit, and revealed the teeth of the
    frightful dragon that was ready to pounce upon me, but it opened
    no way for my escape. I have often wished myself a beast, or a
    bird--anything, rather than a slave. I was wretched and gloomy,
    beyond my ability to describe. I was too thoughtful to be happy.
    It was this everlasting thinking which distressed and tormented
    me; and yet there was no getting rid of the subject of my
    thoughts. All nature was redolent of it. Once awakened by the
    silver trump of knowledge, my spirit was roused to eternal
    wakefulness. Liberty! the inestimable birthright of every man,
    had, for me, converted every object into an asserter of this
    great right. It was heard in every sound, and beheld in every
    object. It was ever present, to torment me with a sense of my
    wretched condition. The more beautiful and charming were the
    smiles of nature, the more horrible and desolate was my
    condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, and I heard nothing
    without hearing it. I do not exaggerate, when I say, that it
    looked from every star, smiled in every calm, breathed in every
    wind, and moved in every storm.

    I have no doubt that my state of mind had something to do with
    the change in the treatment adopted, by my once kind mistress
    toward me. I can easily believe, that my leaden, downcast, and
    discontented look, was very offensive to her. Poor lady! She
    did not know my trouble, and I dared not tell her. Could I have
    freely made her acquainted with the real state of my mind, and
    given her the reasons therefor, it might have been well for
    both of us. Her abuse of me fell upon me like the blows of the
    false prophet upon his ass; she did not know that an _angel_
    stood in the way; and--such is the relation of master and slave I
    could not tell her. Nature had made us _friends;_ slavery made
    us _enemies_. My interests were in a direction opposite to hers,
    and we both had our private thoughts and plans. She aimed to
    keep me ignorant; and I resolved to know, although knowledge only
    increased my discontent. My feelings were not the result of any
    marked cruelty in the treatment I received; they sprung from the
    consideration of my being a slave at all. It was _slavery_--not
    its mere _incidents_--that I hated. I had been cheated. I saw
    through the attempt to keep me in ignorance; I saw that
    slaveholders would have gladly made me believe that they were
    merely acting under the authority of God, in making a slave of
    me, and in making slaves of others; and I treated them as robbers
    and deceivers. The feeding and clothing me well, could not atone
    for taking my liberty from me. The smiles of my mistress could
    not remove the deep sorrow that dwelt in my young bosom. Indeed,
    these, in time, came only to deepen my sorrow. She had changed;
    and the reader will see that I had changed, too. We were both
    victims to the same overshadowing evil--_she_, as mistress, I, as
    slave. I will not censure her harshly; she cannot censure me,
    for she knows I speak but the truth, and have acted in my
    opposition to slavery, just as she herself would have acted, in a
    reverse of circumstances.
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    Chapter 12
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