The country had been denuded of its forests, and men cried—“Come! we must plant anew, or there will be no shade for the homes of our children, or fuel for their hearths. Let us find the best kernels for a new growth.”
And a basket of butternuts was offered.
But the planters rejected it with disgust. “What a black, rough coat is has,” said they; “it is entirely unfit for the dishes on a nobleman’s table, nor have we ever seen it in such places. It must have a greasy, offensive kernel; nor can fine trees grow up from such a nut.”
“Friends,” said one of the planters, “this decision may be rash. The chestnut has not a handsome outside; it is long encased in troublesome burrs, and, when disengaged, is almost as black as these nuts you despise. Yet from it grow trees of lofty stature, graceful form and long life. Its kernel is white and has furnished food to the most poetic and splendid nations of the older world.”
“Do n’t tell me,” says another, “brown is entirely different from black. I like brown very well; there is Oriental precedent for its respectability. Perhaps we will use some of your chestnuts, if we can get fine samples. But for the present I think we should use only English walnuts, such as our forefathers delighted to honor. Here are many basketsful of them, quite enough for the present. We will plant them with a sprinkling between of the chestnut and acorn.” “But,” rejoined the other, “many butternuts are beneath the sod, and you cannot help a mixture of them being in your wood at any rate.”
“Well! We will grab them up and cut them down wherever we find them. We can use the young shrubs for kindlings.”
At that moment entered the council two persons of a darker complexion than most of those present, as if born beneath the glow of a more scorching sun. First came a Woman, beautiful in the mild pure grandeur of her look; in whose large dark eye a prophetic intelligence was mingled with infinite sweetness. She looked at the assembly with an air of surprise, as if its aspect was strange to her. She threw quite back her veil, and stepping aside made room for her companion. His form was youthful, about the size of one we have seen in many a picture, produced by the thought of eighteen centuries, as of one “instructing the Doctors.” I need not describe the features; all minds have their own impressions of such an image,
In his hand he bore a little white banner on which was embroidered PEACE AND GOOD WILL TO MEN. And the words seemed to glitter and give out sparks, as he paused in the assembly.
“I came hither,” said he, “an uninvited guest, because I read sculptured above the door—‘All men born Free and Equal,’ and in this dwelling hoped to find myself at home. What is the matter in dispute?”
Then they whispered to one another, and murmurs were heard—“He is a mere boy; young people are always foolish and extravagant;” or “He looks like a fanatic.” But others said, “He looks like one whom we have been taught to honor. It will be best to tell him the matter in dispute.”
When he heard it, he smiled and said, “It will be needful first to ascertain which of the nuts is soundest within.” And with a hammer he broke one, two, and more of the English walnuts, and they were mouldy.
Then he tried the other nuts, but found most of them fresh within and white, for they were fresh from the bosom of the earth, while the others had been kept in a damp cellar.
And he said, “You had better plant them together, lest none or few of the walnuts be sound. And why are you so reluctant? Has not Heaven permitted them both to grow on the same soil? and does not that show what is intended about it?”
And they said, “But they are black and ugly to look upon.” He replied, “They do not seem so to me. What my Father has fashioned in such guise offends not mine eye.”
And they said, “But from one of these trees flew a bird of prey who has done great wrong. We meant, therefore, to suffer no such tree among us.”
And he replied, “Amid the band of my countrymen and friends there was one guilty of the blackest crime, that of selling for a price the life of his dearest friend, yet all the others of his blood were not put under ban because of his guilt.”
Then they said, “But in the Holy Book our teachers tell us, we are bid to keep in exile or distress whatsoever is black and unseemly in our eyes.”
Then he put his hand on his brow and cried in a voice of the most penetrating pathos, “Have I been so long among ye and ye have not known me?”—And the Woman turned from them, the majestic hope of her glance, and both forms suddenly vanished, but the banner was left trailing in the dust.
The men stood gazing at one another. After which are one mounted on high and said:
“Perhaps, my friends, we carry too far this aversion to objects merely because they are black. I heard, the other day, a wise man say that black was the color of evil—marked as such by God, and that whenever a white man struck a black man he did an act of worship to God.” I could not quite believe him. I hope, in what I am about to add, I shall not be misunderstood. I am no Abolitionist. I respect above all things, divine or human, the Constitution framed by our forefathers, and the peculiar institutions hallowed by the usage of their sons. I have no sympathy with the black race in this country. I wish it to be understood that I feel toward negroes the purest personal antipathy. It is a family trait with us. My little son, scarce able to speak, will cry out “Nigger! Nigger!” whenever he sees one, and try to throw things at them. He made a whole omnibus load laugh the other day by his cunning way of doing this.† The child of my political antagonist, on the other hand, says, “he likes tullared children the best.” You see his is tainted in his cradle by the loose principles of his parents, even before he can say nigger or pronounce the more refined appellation. But that is no matter. I merely mention this by the way: not to prejudice you against Mr. ——, but that you may appreciate the very different state of things in my family, and not misinterpret what I have to say. I was lately in one of our prisons where a somewhat insidious indulgence had extended to one of the condemned felons, a lost and wretched outcast from society, the use of materials for painting, that having been his profession. He had completed at his leisure, a picture of the Lord’s Supper. Most of the figures were well enough, but Judas he had represented as a black.§—Now, gentlemen, I am of opinion that this is an unwarrantable liberty taken with the Holy Scriptures and shows too much prejudice in the community. It is my wish to be moderate and fair, and preserve a medium, neither, on the one hand, yielding the wholesome antipathies planted in our breasts as a safeguard against degradation, and our constitutional obligations, which, as I have before observed, are, with me, more binding than any other; nor on the other hand forgetting that liberality and wisdom which are the prerogative of every citizen of this free Commonwealth. I agree then with our young visitor. I hardly know, indeed, why a stranger and one so young was permitted to mingle in this council, but it was certainly thoughtful in him to crack and examine the nuts. I agree that it may be well to plant some of the black nuts among the others, so that, if many of the walnuts fail, we may make use of this inferior tree.”
At this moment arose a hubbub, and such a clamor of “dangerous innovation,” “political capital,” “low-minded demagogue,” “infidel who denies the Bible,” “lower link in the chain of creation,” &c. that it is impossible to say what was the decision.*
*Fact, that this is affirmed.
† Fact. ‡ Fact. §Fact.