Intellectual Traits.

from a series of sketches by J. W. De Forest: "Chivalrous and Semi-Chivalrous Southrons."

            One of the mistakes of the “chivalrous Sonthron” was to suppose that he was a great reader, and well up to his age in science and literature. The truth is that while his reading was mainly good, it was venerable; he had a conservative taste for what had been considered improving and interesting by his grandfather; his shelves were loaded with the worthy though possibly heavy old “books which no gentleman s library should be without ; " he was sure to own Hume, Robertson, Gibbon, Addison, Johnson, Goldsmith, etc. In theology he was strenuously orthodox, holding fast by the English fathers in biblical exegesis, and distrusting all Germans without knowing any thing about them. In science he was averse to admitting novelties, unless they went to show that the negro is not a human being, and so can not claim the benefit of the Declaration of Independence. In light literature he was cautious how he meddled with Northern, and even with English publications, lest he should unawares become entangled in some "ism."

            It is wonderful to hear a “sound” Southern clergyman defending the deluge, measuring off the ark so as to show how it might contain all the species of animals, asserting that the fossils on Mount Lebanon date from the time of Noah, and supporting a strict interpretation of Genesis by the traditions of the Potawatomies. The belief that the American Indians are the descendants of the ten lost tribes, and as such ought to be besomed off the face of the earth, has more followers in Dixie than in all the rest of the world put together. There has been a prodigious movement in the Southern mind in consequence of Dr. Cartwright’s discovery that God created three kinds of beings, to wit, men, “living creatures,” and beasts; and that the negroes, being evidently “living creatures,” are lower than “humans,” though not so low as animals. This remarkable “reading,” having been popularized by a writer who signs himself ‘‘Ariel,” has been used with great effect by Governor Perry in his letters against universal suffrage, much to the confusion of certain Radical pundits, who did not know what the Governor was talking about. In short, the learning of the South is what one might expect to find among solid, squire-like people addicted to farming. If the true savant wants a hearty laugh let him read the old numbers of De Bow’s Review.

            Before the war things were growing worse, instead of better. Bullied and reproached by abolitionism, scared at the prospect of losing two thousand millions of dollars invested in negroes, the chivalry concentrated its intellect into a defense of slavery, and actually thought of little else. The subject was dwarfing the Southern mind; it had infolded and partially stifled that fine genius which produced so many of our early statesmen, and wrote no small part of the Federalist; it was like a theological dogma which insists on being taken for granted, and, being so taken, destroys the freedom and power of logic. The Southerners, trammeled by admitting slavery, could no more reason on politics than the Jews, trammeled by the Mosaic dispensation, could reason on Christianity.

            Indeed, they had begun to lose the power of thinking justly and brightly on any subject. An unprejudiced person who will glance over their literature will discover a vast declension since Jefferson and Legaré; that is, since the period at which slavery was established as an axiom of Southern ethics and political science, not to be disputed under penalty of death or exile; in other words, since the intellect of Dixie ceased to be free. Its condition of late years has been much like that of the natural philosophers of Putterum, who are obliged by law to preface every inquiry into the astronomical position of the earth by saying, “I believe that it stands in the centre of the universe, on the back of the sacred turtle.” After that, it will be perceived, inquiry becomes needless; and the philosophical writers of Putterum always stop just there hence a decadence in Putterum science and logic.

            It is a curious instance of the power of prejudice that, with regard to the late war, the chivalrous Sonthron does not fully credit the evidence of his own senses. Although regiments from every Northern State marched over every Southern State, he still holds to the idea of Yankees which he formerly established on an experience of subservient Congressmen, obsequious merchants, and non-combative peddlers, and believes that we conquered him with columns of foreign mercenaries. Having served three years in the field and fifteen months in the Provost Marshal General’s Office, I know from sufficient authority the fallacy of this supposition, and could state that our alien-born citizens had scarcely furnished their fair proportion to our armies. I could remark that if all our able-bodied Irish and Germans had served they would not have made up one-half of the twenty-five hundred thousand men whom we enlisted under our flag. I could suggest that if every Hibernian in the world had volunteered for us we should still have lacked a million and a half to our gigantic levy. It was useless; the Dixieite held fast by his venerable prejudices: “the Yankee could not fight, and therefore had not fought.” It is a kind of logic which one frequently encounters in Putterum.

            The Southerners are equally wrong-headed, at least according to our view of the matter and “the sword of Brennus,” in pointing out the causes of the war. Over and over have they assured me that the contest arose not from the necessity of slavery to rule or ruin, but from the aggressive spirit of the Northerners, and particularly of the New Englanders.

            “They always were, you know, the most quarrelsome people that God ever created,” remarked a Greenville planter. “They quarreled in England, and cut off the king’s head. They have been quarreling here ever since they came over in the Mayflower. They got after the Indians and killed them by thousands. They drove out the Baptists and whipped the Quakers and hung the witches. Then they were the first to pick a fight with the old country. It’s my opinion, Sir, and I think you must agree with me, that God never made such another quarrelsome set. What in h—ll he made them for passes my comprehension.”

            As this was better history than one usually meets in Putterum I let it pass without controversy. 

De Forest, J.W., “Chivalrous and Semi-Chivalrous Southrons” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 38, Issue 224, January 1869; New York: Harper & Bros.


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