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قراءة كتاب The Mission; or Scenes in Africa

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The Mission; or Scenes in Africa

The Mission; or Scenes in Africa

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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that out; but they became a sort of feudal property of the Dutch, compelled to hire themselves out, and to work for them upon nominal wages, which they seldom or never received, and liable to every species of harsh treatment and cruelty, for which they could obtain no redress. Yet still they were not bought and sold as were the slaves which were subsequently introduced into the colony from the east coast of Africa and Madagascar. The position of the slaves was, in my opinion, infinitely superior, merely from the self-interest of the owner, who would not kill or risk the life of a creature for whom he had paid two or three hundred rixdollars; whereas, the Dutch boors, or planters, thought little of the life of a Hottentot. If the cattle were to be watched where lions were plentiful, it was not a slave who had charge of them, but a Hottentot, as he had cost nothing, and the planter could procure another. In short, the life of a Hottentot was considered as of no value, and there is no denying that they were shot by their masters or employers upon the most trifling offence.”

“How dreadful! but did the Dutch government suffer this?”

“They could not well help it, and therefore were compelled to wink at it; the criminals were beyond its reach. But now I will proceed to give you some further insight, by describing the Dutch boors, or planters, who usurped and stood in the shoes of the poor Hottentots.

“The Dutch government seized upon all the land belonging to the Hottentots, and gave it away in grants to their own countrymen, who now became herdsmen, and possessed of a large quantity of cattle; they also cultivated the ground to a certain extent round about their habitations. As the colony increased, so did the demand for land, until the whole of the country that was worth having was disposed of as far as to the country of the Caffres, a fine warlike race, of whom we will speak hereafter. It must not, however, be supposed that the whole of the Hottentot tribes became serfs to the soil. Some few drove away their cattle to the northward, out of reach of the Dutch, to the borders of the Caffre-land; others, deprived of their property, left the plains, and took to the mountains, living by the chase and by plunder. This portion were termed boshmen, or bushmen, and have still retained that appellation: living in extreme destitution, sleeping in caves, constantly in a state of starvation, they soon dwindled down to a very diminutive race, and have continued so ever since.

“The Dutch boors, or planters, who lived in the interior, and far away from Cape Town, had many enemies to contend with: they had the various beasts of the forest, from the lion to the jackal, which devastated their flocks and herds, and also these bushmen, who lived upon plunder. Continually in danger, they were never without their muskets in their hands, and they and their descendants became an athletic, powerful, and bulky race, courageous, and skilled in the use of fire-arms, but at the same time cruel and avaricious to the highest degree. The absolute power they possessed over the slaves and Hottentots demoralised them, and made them tyrannical and bloodthirsty. At too great a distance from the seat of government for its power to reach them, they defied it, and knew no law but their own imperious wills, acknowledging no authority,—guilty of every crime openly, and careless of detection.”

“I certainly have read of great cruelty on the part of these Dutch boors, but I had no idea of the extent to which it was carried.”

“The origin was in that greatest of all curses, slavery; nothing demoralises so much. These boors had been brought up with the idea that a Hottentot, a bushman, or a Caffre were but as the mere brutes of the field, and they have treated them as such. They would be startled at the idea of murdering a white man, but they will execute wholesale slaughter among these poor natives, and think they have committed no crime. But the ladies are coming up, and we shall be interrupted, so I will not task your patience any more to-day. I shall therefore conclude what I may term part the first of my little history of the Cape colony.”



Chapter Four.

Alexander Wilmot was too much pleased with Mr Swinton not to cultivate his acquaintance, and they soon became very intimate. The conversation often turned upon Mr Swinton’s favourite study, that of natural history.

“I confess myself wholly ignorant of the subject,” observed Alexander one day, “though I feel that it must be interesting to those who study it; indeed, when I have walked through the museums, I have often wished that I had some one near who could explain to me what I wished to know and was puzzled about. But it appears to me that the study of natural history is such an immense undertaking if you comprehend all its branches. Let me see,—there is botany, mineralogy, and geology—these are included, are they not?”

“Most certainly,” replied Mr Swinton, laughing; “and perhaps the three most interesting branches. Then you have zoology, or the study of animals, ornithology for birds, entomology for insects, conchology for shells, ichthyology for fishes; all very hard names, and enough to frighten a young beginner. But I can assure you, a knowledge of these subjects, to an extent sufficient to create interest and afford continual amusement, is very easily acquired.”

“‘The proper study of mankind is man,’ says the poet,”—observed Alexander, smiling.

“Poets deal in fiction, Mr Wilmot,” replied Mr Swinton; “to study man is only to study his inconsistencies and his aberrations from the right path, which the free-will permitted to him induces him to follow; but in the study of nature, you witness the directing power of the Almighty, who guides with an unerring hand, and who has so wonderfully apportioned out to all animals the means of their providing for themselves. Not only the external, but the inward structure of animals, shows such variety, and ingenuity to surmount all difficulties, and to afford them all the enjoyment their nature is capable of, that after every examination you rise with increased astonishment and admiration at the condescension and goodness of the Master Hand, thus to calculate and provide for the necessities of the smallest insect; and you are compelled to exclaim with the Psalmist, ‘O God, how manifold are thy works; in wisdom hast thou made them all!’”

“You certainly do put the study in a new and most pleasurable light,” replied Alexander.

“The more you search into nature, the more wonderful do you find her secrets, and, by the aid of chemistry, we are continually making new discoveries. Observe, Mr Wilmot,” said Swinton picking up a straw which had been blown by the wind on the quarter-deck, “do you consider that there is any analogy between this straw and the flint in the lock of that gun?”

“Certainly, I should imagine them as opposite particles of nature as well might be.”

“Such is not the case. This piece of wheat-straw contains more than sixty per cent of silica or flint in its composition; so that, although a vegetable, it is nearly two-thirds composed of the hardest mineral substance we know of. You would scarcely believe that the fibres of the root of this plant were capable of dissolving, feeding upon, and digesting such a hard substance; but so it is.”

“It is very wonderful.”

“It is, but it is not a solitary instance; the phosphate of lime, which is the chief component part of the bones of animals, is equally sought by plants, dissolved in the same manner, and taken into their bodies; barley and oats have about thirty per cent of it in their composition, and most woods and plants have more or less.”

“I am less surprised at that than I am with the flint, which appears almost incomprehensible.”

“Nothing is impossible with God; there is a rush in Holland which contains much more silex than the

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