« PreviousContinue »
DR. WINTERBOTTOM’S ACCOUNT OF SIERRA LEONE. 75
in his laughing and in his pathetic, than in his grave and reasoning moods. He meant, perhaps, that we should ; and it certainly is not very necessary that a writer should be profound on the subject of Bulls. Whatever be the deficiencies of the book, they are, in our estimation, amply atoned for by its merits; by none more than that lively feeling of compassion which per. vades it for the distresses of the wild, kind-hearted, blundering poor of Ireland.
DR. WINTERBOTTON'S ACCOUNT OF SIERRA LEONE.
(E. REVIEW, January, 1804.) An Account of Native Africans in the Neighbourhood of Sierra Leone. To which is added
An Account of the present State of Medicine among them. By THOMAS WINTER
BOTTOM, Physician to the Colony of Sierra Leone. Hatchard, Piccadilly. Vol. I. It appears from the Preface of this book that the original design of Dr. Winterbottom was to write only on the medical knowledge of the Africans in the neighbourhood of Sierra Leone ; but as he had lived among them some time in quality of physician to the colony, and had made many observations on the genius and manners of the various African nations which surround it, it was thought fit (i.c. profitable) that he should write one volume for general, and one for therapeutic readers. The latter has not yet come to our hands. The former we have read with pleasure.—It is very sensibly and agreeably drawn up, and the only circumstance we regret is that, upon the whole, it must be rather considered as a compilation from previous writers than as the result of the author's experience : not that he is exactly on a footing with mere compilers; because every account which he quotes of scenes to which he is familiar, he sanctions by his authority; and, with the mass of borrowed, there is a certain portion of original matter. It appears also that a brother of the author, in company with a Mr. Watt, penetrated above 400 miles into a part of Africa totally unknown to Europeans; but there are very few observations quoted from the journal kept in this excursion ; and the mention of it served for little more than to excite a curiosity which is not gratified by further communication.
By the neighbourhood of Sierra Leone, Mr. Winterbottom means the wind. ward coast, or that portion of the western shore of Africa which extends from the river Senegal to the latitude of nearly 5° north, where the coast quits its easterly direction, and runs away to the south, or a little to the east of south.
The whole of this coast is inhabited by a great number of independent nations, divided by different shades of barbarism and disputed limits of terri. tory, plunged in the darkest ignorance and superstition, and preyed upon by the homicide merchants of Europe. The most curious passage in this section of the work is an extract which Mr. Winterbottom has given us from a report made to a Committee of the House of Commons by the Directors of the Sierra Leone Company; and which (as we conjecture, from Dr. Winterbottom's mode of expressing himself, it has never been printed) we shall extract from his book.
“A remarkable proof (say the Directors) exists in the neighbourhood of Sierra Leone of the very great advantages of a permanent, though very imperfect, system of government, and of the abolition of those African laws which make slavery the punishment of almost every offence. Not more than seventy years ago a small number of Mahommedans established themselves in a country about forty miles to the northward of Sierra Leone, called from them the Mandingo country. As is the practice of the professors of that religion, they formed schools in which the Arabic language and the doctrines of Mahomet were taught; and the customs of Mahommedans, particularly that of not selling any of their own religion for slaves, were adopted ; laws founded on the Koran were introduced; those practices which chiefly contribute to depopulate were eradicated; and, in spite of many intestine convulsions, a great
comparative idea of civilisation, unity, and security was introduced : population, in consequence, was rapidly increased ; and the whole power of that part of the country in which they are settled has gradually fallen into their hands. Those who have been taught in their schools are succeeding to wealth and power in the neighbouring countries, and carry with them a considerable portion of their religion and laws; other chiefs are adopting the names assumed by these Mahommedans, on account of the respect with which it is attended : and the religion of Islem seems to diffuse itself peaceably over the whole district in which the colony is situated,-carrying with it those advantages which seem ever to have attended its victory over African superstition.'
Agriculture, though in a rude infant state, is practised all along this coast of Africa. All the lands must be strictly appropriated in a country, and the greater part cultivated, before any can be cultivated well. Where land is of little value, it is cheaper and better to till it slightly than perfectly; or rather, perfection, under such circumstances, consists in idleness and neglect. The great impediment to be removed from the fresh land which the Africans mean to cultivate, are those troublesome weeds called trees; which are first cut down, and then, with the grass, set fire to at a particular season of the year. This operation is performed when the Pleiades, the only stars they observe, are in a certain position with respect to the setting sun. At that season the fires are seen rolling in every direction over the parched and inflammable herbage ; and the blazing provinces are discerned at an immense distance in the night by ships approaching the coast. At this period of arson it is not safe to travel without a tinder box; for, if a traveller is surprised by the pursuit of the flame, his only safety consists in propagating the same evil before, by which he is menaced behind ; and, in trudging on amidst the fiery hyphen, multiplying destruction in order to avoid it. The Foolahs, who seem to have made the greatest advances in agriculture, are, however, still ignorant of the use of the plough, though Dr. Winterbottom is quite persuaded they might easily be taught to use cattle for that purpose.
" There came (says the Doctor) during my residence at the colony, a chief of considerable importance, from the river Gambia, attracted by curiosity and a desire of information. The man, whose appearance instantly announced a mind of no common cast, was so much struck with what he saw there, that before he went away he engaged in his service two of the most ingenious mechanics in the colony, one of whom, a carpenter, among other things. make a plough, and the other was to teach his people the art of training oxen for the draught. and fixing them to the yoke. For a further account of this person, see the Report of the Directors of the Sierra Leone Company. London, 1795."
It is curious to remark that where any instance of civilisation and refinement is discovered in the manners of a barbarous people, it exists in a much higher degree than the same virtue in nations generally refined. There are many single points of barbarous courtesy much more rigidly adhered to than the rules of European politeness would require. We have often remarked this in the voyages of Captain Cook among the islands of the Indian Archipelago ; and there is a very remarkable instance of it among the natives of this coast. The houses (says Dr. Winterbottom) have seldom any other opening than the door, of which there are usually two opposite to each other. These serve the purpose of keeping up a current of air ; they also admit the light, and afford an exit to the smoke of the fire, which is made in the middle of the floor. The entrance of a house is seldom closed by anything but a mat, which is occasionally let down, and is a sufficient barrier against all intruders. The most intimate friend will not presume to lift the mat and enter, unless his salutation is returned. Nay, when the door is thus slightly closed, a woman, by pronouncing the word Mooradee (I am busy), can prevent her husband from entering, even though he is assured she is entertaining her gallant. His only remedy is to wait for their coming out.
The explanation of these insulated pieces of superlative refinement among
savages frequently is that they are not mere ceremonies, but religious observances; for the faith of barbarous people commonly regulates all the frivolous minutiæ of life, as well as its important duties; indeed, generally considers the first as of greater consequence than the last. And it must be a general fact at all times that gross ignorance more tenaciously adheres to a custom once adopted, because it respects that custom as an ultimate rule, and does not discern cases of exception by appealing to any higher rule upon which the first is found.
The Africans are very litigious; and display, in their lawsuits or palavers, a most forensic exuberance of images and loquacity of speech. Their criminal causes are frequently terminated by selling one of the parties into slavery; and the Christians are always ready to purchase either the plaintiff or defendant, or both; together with all the witnesses and any other human creature who is of a dusky colour, and worships the great idol Boo-Boo-Boo, with eleven heads.
No great division of labour can of course be expected in such a state of society. Every man is a city in himself, and is his own tailor, hairdresser, shoemaker, and everything else. Among the Foolahs, however, some progress has been made in the division of employments. The tanner and the blacksmith are distinct trades; and the ingenuity which they evince in overcoming obstacles, by means so inadequate to those which Europeans possess, may convince us what a stock of good qualities human nature has in store for cases of emergency. They put to sea canoes of ten tons' burthen, hollowed from a single tree ; and although they are ignorant of the use of the potter's wheel, make earthen pots fit for every domestic use. Dr. Winterbottom thinks they may have learnt their pottery from Europeans ; but if this is true, it is rather singular they were not instructed by the same masters in the use of the potter's most convenient and most prominent instrument. The common dress of the men consists in a shirt, trowsers, woollen cap or hat, which they buy of Europeans. Those who can afford it, are fond of decorating themselves in all the second-hand splendour they can purchase at the same market; and Monmouth Street embarks its decayed finery for the coast of Africa, where Soosoo rakes and loungers are joyfully vested in the habili. ments of their Bond Street predecessors. The dress of the Pagan African is never thought complete unless a variety of gree-grees, or amulets, be superadded; these are to guard against every possible accident; but, as Dr. Winterbottom observes, are such very cumbersome protectors that in all real dangers they are commonly thrown away. The Mahommedan religion is inimical to dancing, singing, and all the lighter species of amusement. Riding on horseback is the only exercise of those Africans who have adopted this dull faith. Sedentary amusements, such as reading and writing, which flatter the literary pride with which they are puffed up, are most congenial to their habits. The collation of manuscripts, which they perform with industry and accuracy, takes up much of their time. The Pagan African, on the contrary, is commonly a merry, dancing animal, given to every species of antic and apish amusement; and as he is unacquainted with the future and promised delights of the Arabian prophet, he enjoys the bad music and imperfect beauty of this world with a most eager and undisturbed relish.
There is something so natural, and so closely derived from human govern. ments, in the notion of the immediate interference of Providence, that mankind are only weaned from it by centuries of contradiction and discussion. In all cases, where crime is alleged, the accused is obliged to prove his innocence by submitting to an ordeal. If he is burnt by red-hot iron, or scalded by boiling oil, he is immediately hurried to the gallows, with a zeal proportioned
to the force and perspicuity of the evidence. In the neighbourhood of Sierra Leone a curious species of pharmaceutical tyranny is resorted to for the purpose of ordeal. The bark of a particular tree, of purgative and emetic qualities, is infused into a large quantity of water, of which the prisoner is to drink about six calibashes quite full. If this judicial and inquisitive drink take a superior direction, and return by the aperture through which it is admitted, all is well; but if the least honourable and elegant of its powers predominate over the other, and it evince a disposition to descend, all opportunity of changing its line of egress is prevented by the immediate elevation of the accused person to the gibbet.
The desire of penetrating into futurity, and the belief that some persons are capable of doing it, is as difficult to eradicate from the human mind as is the belief in an inmediate Providence ; and, consequently, the Africans not only have their ordeal, but their conjurors and magicians, who are appealed to in all the difficulties and uncertainties of life, and who always, of course, preserve their authority, though they are perpetually showing, by the clearest evidence of facts, upon what sort of foundation it rests. But the most singular circumstance in the history of barbarians is that tendency to form interior societies, comprehending a vast number of members, and rivalling the government in their influence upon public opinion. Such is the Areoy Society at Otaheite, and such the Society of the Purra in Africa. Every person, on entering into this Society, lays aside his former name, and takes a new one. They have a superior, whose commands are received with the most profound veneration. When the Purra comes into a town, which is always at night, it is accompanied with the most horrid screams, howlings, and every kind of awful noise. The inhabitants who are not members are obliged to secure themselves within doors. Should anyone be discovered without, or peeping to see what was going forward, he would infallibly be put to death. Mere seclusion of females is not considered by the Society as a sufficient guarantee against their curiosity; but all the time the Purra remains in town, the women are obliged to clap their hands, to show they are not attempting any private indulgence of espionnage. Like the Secret Tribunal which formerly existed in Germany, it punishes the guilty and disobedient, in so secret a manner that the perpetrators are never known, ånd, from the dread of the Tribunal, not often inquired for. The natives about Sierra Leone speak of the Purra men with horror, and firmly believe that they have all strict and incessant intercourse with the devil.
This account of Africa is terminated by a single chapter on Sierra Leone ; a subject on which we cannot help regretting that Dr. Winterbottom has not been a little more diffuse. It would derive a peculiar interest from the present state of St. Domingo, as the perils with which West India property is now threatened must naturally augment curiosity respecting the possibility of a pacific change of that system ; and we should have read with pleasure and instruction the observations of so intelligent and entertaining a writer as, Dr. Winterbottom, who is extensively acquainted with the subjects on which he writes, and has a talent of selecting important matter, and adorning it. Dr. Winterbottom says he has been in Africa some years, and we do not doubt the fact; he might, however, have written this book without giving himself that trouble ; and the only difference between him and a mere compiler is that he sanctions his quotations by authority, and embellishes them by his ingenuity. The medical volume we have not yet seen, but this first volume may be safely purchased.
MRS. TRIMMER ON LANCASTER'S PLAN OF EDUCATION,
(E. REVIEW, October, 1806.) A Comparative View of the New Plan of Education promulgated by Mr. Joseph Lancaster,
in his Tracts concerning the Instruction of the Children of the Labouring Part of the Community; and of the System of Christian Education founded by our pious Forefathers for the Initiation of the Young Members of the Established Church in the Principles of
the Reformed Religion. By Mrs. TRIMMER. 8vo, pp. 152. 1805. This is a book written by a lady who has gained considerable reputation at the corner of St. Paul's Churchyard; who flames in the van of Mr. Newberry's shop ; and is, upon the whole, dearer to mothers and aunts than any other author who pours the milk of science into the mouths of babes and sucklings. Tired at last of scribbling for children, and getting ripe in ambition, she has now written a book for grown-up people, and selected for her antagonist as stiff a controversialist as the whole field of dispute could well have supplied. Her opponent is Mr. Lancaster, a Quaker, who has lately given to the world new and striking lights upon the subject of Education, and come forward to the notice of his country by spreading order, knowledge, and innocence among the lowest of mankind.
Mr. Lancaster, she says, wants method in his book; and therefore her answer to him is without any arrangement. The same excuse must suffice for the desultory observations we shall make upon this lady's publication.
The first sensation of disgast we experienced at Mrs. Trimmer's book was from the patronising and protecting air with which she speaks of some small part of Mr. Lancaster's plan. She seems to suppose, because she has dedi--cated her mind to the subject, that her opinion must necessarily be valuable upon it ; forgetting it to be barely possible that her application may have made her more wrong, instead of more right. If she can make out of her case that Mr. Lancaster is doing mischief in so important a point as that of national education, she has a right, in common with everyone else, to lay her complaint before the public; but a right to publish praises must be earned by something more difficult than the writing sixpenny books for children. They may be very good ; though we never remember to have seen any one of them ; but if they be no more remarkable for judgment and discretion than parts of the work before us, there are many thriving children quite capable of repaying the obligations they owe to their amiable instructress, and of teaching, with grateful retaliation, “the old idea how to shoot.”
In remarking upon the work before us, we shall exactly follow the plan of the authoress, and prefix, as she does, the titles of those subjects on which her observations are made ; doing her the justice to presume that her quotations are fairly taken from Mr. Lancaster's book.
1. Mr. Lancaster's Preface.-Mrs. Trimmer here contends, in opposition to Mr. Lancaster, that ever since the establishment of the Protestant Church the education of the poor has been a national concern in this country; and the only argument she produces in support of this extravagant assertion is an appeal to the Act of Uniformity. If there are millions of Englishmen who cannot spell their own names, or read a sign-post which bids them turn to the right or left, is it any answer to this deplorable state of ignorance to say, there is an Act of Parliament for public instruction ?-to show the very line and chapter where the King, Lords, and Commons, in Parliament assembled, ordained the universality of reading and writing—when, centuries afterwards, the ploughman is no more capable of the one or the other than the beast which he drives? In point of fact, there is no Protestant country in the world where the education of the poor has been so grossly and infamously neglected as in England. Mr. Lancaster has the very high merit of calling the public atten.