Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

THE

MONTHLY REVIEW.

JUNE, 1830.

*

Art. I.-Notes on Haiti, made during a Residence in that Republic.

By Charles Mackenzie, Esq. F.R.S. F.L.S., late his Majesty's ConsulGeneral in Haiti, and now his Majesty's Commissioner of Arbitration in the Havannah, &c. &c. In 2 volumes. 8vo. London : Colburn and

Bentley. 1830. The last account which we remember to have seen of Haiti, before these volumes were put into our hands, proceeded from the pen of Mr. Harvey of Queen's College, Cambridge, whose sketches we noticed in favourable terms two or three years ago. The experiment of independence ventured upon by the sable republic, was treated by that gentleman as successful in every respect. That the progress of its prosperity was embarrassed and retarded by the sanguinary contentions which followed the first great revolution, he admitted ; but, as far as his personal testimony went, it made out, as we thought at the time, a strong case in behalf of the Negro character in general, and especially on the part of those persons, most of them of African descent, who contributed to establish the independence of that island.

Nobody, we believe, at this side of the Atlantic, ever supposed that what we call civil liberty, was to be found in all its purity and perfection among the inhabitants of Haiti. Any person of common sense, who will take the trouble of reading the constitution of its government, must clearly see, at once, that the executive power is, or might be, nearly despotic, if the individual wielding that power were generally popular, or chose to run the risque of losing his supremacy and his head. Nor could it for a moment be imagined, that the institutions necessary for giving life and nurity to liberty and property ; for ordaining wise laws, for ex jpding commerce, and diffusing through the community the spirit of in

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[graphic]

dustry and the desire of wealth, were likely to be organised and brought into habitual action within a few years, in any new state, but particularly amongst a race of people unaccustomed to govern themselves according to European notions of freedom.

We regret to observe that Mr. Mackenzie and Mr. Harvey differ from each other in many points-as to the success of the political experiment which has been made in Haiti, they are as far asunder as the two poles. And our regret is the more poignant, at seeing this contradictory testimony given by two respectable individuals, inasmuch as one of them was invested with an office which is calculated, in the eyes of the world, to identify his sentiments with those of our own government. Mr. Harvey, as a private gentleman, stated his opinions with respect to Haiti, so far as we can judge, without any bias strong enough to interfere with the free exercise of his reason. We shall not accuse Mr. Mackenzie of having, on his departure from England for Haiti, entertained any violent prejudices on subjects which it would be his duty to examine with candour, and to report upon faithfully and impartially. It is, however, unfortunate, in many respects, that he has judged of Haiti by too high a standard. He seems to have expected that he should have found there society formed upon the model of England; that the towns should have been built upon the plan of Regent street; that the House of Commous should possess as great an influence in the legislature of that state, as the popular branch of the Parliament exercises in our own country : that the laws should be the best that could emanate from the mind of man, that the administration of them should be unexceptionable, and that the Haitian police should rival that which has but lately been organised in London. Having gone out with such crude and ill-founded expectations as these, it was a necessary consequence that Mr. Mackenzie should encounter disappointment at almost every step; but it was by no means equally necessary that he,--an officer of the British Government,-should have expressed his sense of that disappointment in the very objectionable language which constitutes the bulk of these volumes. Indeed, we are surprised that he was suffered to publish them. We are not for giving to the Government a censorship over the press; but when one of its own authorised agents is sent to a country specially to collect information, we do say that the question whether the information so obtained is to be depended upon, and is of a character consistent with the relations between it and ourselves, is one that should have been settled by superior authority, before such a work as this was permitted to see the light. Sure we are, that if Mr. Mackenzie had shown it in manuscript to any of his friends in the Foreign-Office, he would have been advised to keep it by him, at least until after his return from the Havannah. He will there, possibly, acquire a little experience, which will affect considerably his notions of comfort in a West Indian island.

[graphic]
[graphic]

We

e are sorry to see at the very outset, in the preface to the first volume, too many indications of a character,-most unfit, in our opinion, for the arduous duties which were devolved upon this gentleman. Having stated that he was appointed, in 1826, the British Consul-General at Hayti, and given rather a pompous account of the manner in which he had discharged his functions, he descends into the arena, like a pugilist, to fight with an anonymous writer in a very useful periodical, called the “Anti-Slavery Monthly Reporter.". Some of the Consul-General's despatches, which were unfavourable to the principles maintained by that journal, having been printed by order of the House of Commons, they were strongly commented

upon in that publication; it was more than insinuated that the functionary had no other authority than himself for several allegations which he ventured to advance; and that his premises and conclusions were frequently at a very extraordinary distance from each other. Now, as he did not think it beneath his official dignity (of which, by the way, his ideas are of the magnificent order) to notice the criticisms of the “Reporter," it seems to us that he would have most effectually, and most decorously accomplished his object, if he pointed out the errors into which his critic had fallen, and the wilful misrepresentations of which that person might have been guilty.

Mr. Mackenzie does no such thing. He has thought it no stain, either upon his official or personal character, to content himself with stigmatizing the comments of his adversary, as 'coarsely vulgar, and impudently false;' as exhibiting a dishonest style of

• criticism,' as abounding in 'flagrant misrepresentations of facts,' in

garbled quotations,' and in ‘much passion but little reason.' This very elegant language the Consul-General winds up with one of Mr. Canning's thunderbolts—“such imputations disgrace only those who utter them, and show only what it is that they who are capable of imputing base motives to others, would themselves be, if they were in official situations ! ”

But this is not enough! The “Reporter" is not yet extinguished. The Consul-General further expresseth his mighty wrath in the following terms, which are certainly any thing but official, either in their style or temper.

• When I first read the paper in question, pity and contempt were alternately called forth ; for the coarseness of the manner,

and the dishonesty of the matter, led me to ascribe it to some ignorant but unprincipled man, reckless of character from being unacquainted with its value, who had been hired to make out a case against me, because my reports were considered to militate against the dogmas of his principles; but my feeling has been one of unmitigated contempt, since I find it universally attributed to one individual—an individual so identified with sordid mendacity, as to render either victory or defeat in any contest with him, equally discreditable. But were this consideration not all-powerful, in my humble opinion no advantage can accrue from the most perfect exposure that can be made; since

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

cause.

it is hopeless to expect to convince those who give credence to such an oracle; and it is no less hopeless to look for the conversion of a skulking libeller, whose self-gratulations, amid profound contempt, prove his superiority to all sense of shame:

--- Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo

Ipse domi.
Refutation on refutation would be perfectly unavailing, for,

You break his web of sophistry in vain :

The creature's at his dirty work again.'-vol. i. pp. 9-11. Now, with Mr. Mackenzies's leave, we must say, that in this style of phraseology there is much passion but little reason. It is infinitely coarser than the language of which he complains, and it is by no means the token either of a discreet judgment or a good

Why is he so angry if he be sure that he is right, and that he discharged his functions in a conscientious manner?

This is not the only bad omen we encounter in the first of these two volumes. We very soon discover that Mr. Mackenzie having left his home with the greatest reluctance, no sooner lands on the shores of Haiti, than he betrays every possible symptom of a dissatis

a fied and sullen exile. The appearance of the capital displeases him. It was ruinous, filthy, the carriage road intolerable, the climate atrocious. There was no court, except upon very rare occasions, and then there was no ceremony, and the President paid very little attention to the British consul, having, for some reason best known to himself, a preference for a functionary of the same rank from France. Possibly the Frenchman had studied and acquired politeness, and possibly the Scotchman bad done neither. Then there was scarcely an individual in the whole town with whom our representative could associate, and so he took a cottage in the country, and became for a while a sort of official hermit. Here he collected as many official papers as he could get by sending for them, and chiefly from these sources he gives us a documentary account of the principal matters relating to the actual state of Haiti, whereas he was appointed by the king, and paid by the public, for the purpose of obtaining a personal, and not a paper acquaintance with the real condition of the island, with its men and manners, the interior of their circles, and their minds, their interests, their education, and their national tendency to prosperity or decay. This was the sort of knowledge which we wanted, and the agent employed for the purpose of obtaining it, has brought us little more than tables and figures, returns, reports, and commentaries upon the constitution, every one of which he might have proeured or written in Aberdeen, as well as in his closet in the neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince. It certainly was not a very encouraging prospect for our Consul, that during the first six months of his retirement at that place, the only invitations he received were to-funerals ! He contrived, however, to mourn by deputy! - whence it appears

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

that he had not even the curiosity to mingle with the Haitians upon occasions which, more than any other, perhaps, that he could avail himself

of, display their character, particularly the liveliness of their affection for their relatives and friends. The following picture of the social intercourse of Port-au-Prince can hardly be correctly drawn; it is manifestly tinged with the spleen.

* As far as I could discover, there is nothing of an imperceptible gradation in society. The president avowedly stands at the head, and the military and civil officers range according to their respective ranks; but there is no higher order, no middle class, descending to the lower orders in private life. Military and civil employment, and the possession of money, alone entitle to consideration; but in general the possessor will associate on terms of familiarity with the lowest member in the scale of society, without any feeling of degradation. There are, however, exceptions to this awkward practice. Some have attempted to show that the coloured population form an aristocracy, while the whole of the labour is entailed on the negro. This, I suspect, is generalizing too extensively; though it is a fact that the former very often fill the principal offices, owing, I suppose, to their being generally better educated; but there are many instances in which blacks, even without education, are intrusted with important offices. There is one circumstance which appears to me very essentially to contribute to this spirit of equality. Almost every man, whatever his official rank may be, is either directly or indirectly engaged in commerce, the acquisition of money being held in as great repute as it ever was in Dukes-place or the Minories. Out of the class just mentioned there is no intermediate step to that of labourers, artizans, domestic servants, &c. These are of all colours and of various qualities. The natives are the most numerous, and there are among them some ingenious workmen and industrious labourers; but these qualities are not so general as they ought to be.

Among the labourers in town, there is a considerable number of emigrants from the United States of America, who, though by no means deficient in intelligence, are, with few exceptions, by no means the most respectable part of the community, My personal experience among several American servants that I had, led to this conclusion; and on investigating the causes, I found that during the rage for emigration from America to Haiti, the very refuse of the black and coloured population of the former were foremost, no doubt in the expectation of finding a schoolboy's Utopia in the new land of promise. But when they found that the government exacted labour in return for food and grants of land, discontent and dissatisfaction followed ; and those who could not remove themselves, (which numbers failed in doing, owing to the vigilance of the authorities) became as systematic in idleness, drunkenness, and profligacy, as men and women could be.

· Indolence and inactivity are not, however, confined to the emigrants; they are the characteristics of the country: there is a general air of listlessness, which

may

be aptly described death-like languour which is not repose," pervading all classes. I was much struck by a practical illustration which was one day afforded by a Haitian of the truth of this remark. An Englishman had desired a porter in the house where he was employed, to go on some message for him to a short distance.

As I was

[ocr errors]

as

a

« ZurückWeiter »