Return Of The Native Son: Chapter Twenty-Four

It did not take very long for the introductory speech of Lord Lipton to the House of Lords to be made into a pamphlet and shared among people. It would be going too far to say that the pamphlet was itself a best-seller. It was not, for however much it can be said that there was a market for political writing, this speech was not the kind where there was an obvious wide interest. It must be remembered, after all, the sort of political information that drew wide and appreciative audiences. One must think about the affair of the necklace in Versailles, or the identity of the latest favorite of Queen Catharine of Russia, or something else of that nature. For such speculations as these there was always a wide audience. It was far less so for someone who had given some rough details about his life and upbringing and his own thoughts about the question of the fitness of the African for rights and freedom.

This is not to say that such questions did not excite interest. It is only that the way he spoke and write about them was not well-calculated to stir the interest of the common person. The only line of prurient interest in the entire statement, which was in general conducted in a high style as befitting someone who felt it necessary to prove their scholarship and erudition, was the line about the blending of the races with the consent of both parties and their parents. This attracted considerable notice, because there was little that was remarked upon more by people than the tendency of Americans to mix the races with a high degree of profligacy. This was by no means a new problem. The French and Spanish had been particularly well noted for their tendency to mix the races, on account of there being a surfeit of hot-blooded men and a shortage of appropriate European ladies. It had indeed been one of the conscious aims of the British empire to, insofar as was possible, provide an occasion for men and women of English, and later of other European descent, to marry without it being necessary to mix overly much with the local population. But even in the English colonies such a thing had been known to happen. That notable princess Pocahantes, for example, had married a commoner in John Wolfe, who may have introduced tobacco farming and been a respectable member of Virginian society, but he was by no means a fit husband for a princess, even a native one.

And it must be admitted that England had seen plenty of discussions about those who were considered by others or who considered themselves to be nobles of various African peoples who had nonetheless found themselves enslaved and who were freed or escaped. Mind you, the same thing happened in reverse, as sometimes ordinary travelers of European descent found themselves enslaved by the brutal and rapacious Barbary pirates, and found themselves being slaves to barbarians when they were themselves worthy of great respect at home and anywhere where people treated others with respect. To be sure, the good people of Great Britain did not want to think themselves to be the sort of people who acted like barbarians and pirates, and so it was that only a few years ago that a daring judge had made it illegal for someone to be a slave in England, that English air made the slaves free. But it was only English air that did this.

One of the things that attracted a great deal of questioning about the United States was the wide disconnected that often existed between the proclamation of grand ideals and the mocking of those ideals. It made perfect sense to those who were hostile to America that people would claim of universal ideals like equality and then deny that this privilege properly belonged to all races and all sexes, or that people who wanted to imprison those to the ways and actions of the past would simultaneously want to consider themselves free, or that those who systematically denied reciprocal standards of justice would consider themselves to be the fiercest proclaimers of justice in the world. How was such a thing to be borne?

It was interesting, at the very least, that Lord Lipton had made it clear that he valued consent, even when it came to those who were often considered to be inferior people. Those who knew Lord Lipton understood that he meant what he said. He would not feel comfortable with intimacy in the absence of consent. He would not assault servants or exploit slaves. He would not target those who were in vulnerable positions with plots of extortion to gratify his own desires, and quickly understood why it was that the slanders that had been made of him were such a big mistake and so inaccurate. Those who did not know him wondered if he was admitting to such a liaison in the past but arguing that it was indeed consensual or merely speaking theoretically. It was admittedly hard to tell because so much of the speech seemed to dwell in the realm of moral theory with the attempt to put such honorable sentiments into difficult practice.

Among those people who were interested in such theories of moral sentiments, there was a debate about various aspects of that Lord Lipton said. Perhaps unsurprisingly, what sparked a great deal of debate was the nature of the experience that Lord Lipton had which led him to consider those from Africa to be capable of the highest levels of intellectual, moral, and cultural advancement. If by this he meant that one would expect to see principled African archbishops in English-speaking areas, most people hardly considered such a thing possible. If by this one meant seeing novels or plays or poems of the first rank from Africans or descendants, the vast majority of the people who read Lord Lipton’s sentiments would have been less surprised to hear of such things from the imaginary inhabitants of Mars or the mountains of the moon.

But it must be admitted that there was still a debate. There were others who came back from the colonies, who served on ships or in the army, who commented that they had seen freed slaves, even, who behaved with great loyalty to the crown, who relished the chance to learn how to read when no longer forbidden from literacy by law, and who were brave and capable scouts and soldiers. From such accounts it became clear that Lord Lipton’s experiences were not so unusual after all, and this made his words far less controversial than they may have at first appeared. This is not to say that all who served in the colonies during the late conflict were people who had a high view of Africans, but merely that Lord Lipton was not so much of a nonpareil paragon of elevated opinion of such a frequently degraded and insulted people. Being less unusual than he may have first appeared made it seem as if he had less of a motive for so being than simply being an honest man who was willing to see people as they were and not who they were seen as by others.

As far as his own social circle was concerned, the pamphlet was viewed with very friendly views. It was clear that while Lord Lipton was no radical, certainly not someone who lacked the virtues of patriotism and moderation and prudence in his beliefs, he was certainly of the opinion that moral reformation was important for England, and this placed him squarely within a camp of evangelical members of Parliament who were happy to have another principled peer seeking such things in an age where decadence and cynicism were all too common.

Whatever else could be said about Lord Lipton, after all, concerning his words, he was by no means a cynic. And that was something that may have been a bit more rare than should have been the case. As far as the personal meanings that were meant by the Lord’s speech, no one inquired. If he did not wish to share whatever war experiences he had when it came to an intimate knowledge of the African problem, they were not inclined to compel him to say that which might make them jealous or upset. And Lord Lipton was not the sort of person who wished to deliberately inflict pain or suffering upon anyone else, or pangs of jealousy in making people compare to those who had brought him at least some pleasure in the past, whether of witty conversation or a more substantial nature. Sarah, for herself, had heard enough to know that Lord Lipton had known what it was like to feel love and attraction to others, and that was enough for her to know that she would not be neglected by someone who had obviously tender and affectionate feelings.

Perhaps such a subject may come up again at a later time, but there was no need for anyone to pry too much into the message. As far as the interests of Lord Lipton was concerned, the speech had done what it was intended to do. It was intended to provide some sort of context which allowed other people to place him in various electoral coalitions and positions on various matters relating to morals, the well-being of the realm, and questions of public debate. It provided a discussion of his life and behavior and background in such a way that it was not necessary for people to pry into such matters to know that he had not expected to be a peer but that he was not unqualified for it by virtue of his birth and service. The fact that he was both a peer of relatively recent vintage but not too recent of origin allowed others to see him as having a certain degree of class, and those who valued the popular touch would find much in him to please them, while at the same time he demonstrated uncontroversial views on religion, and a certain seriousness about the Bible and its contents in the brief mention he made of such things as to indicate to all his sincerity of belief.

All of this was quite to the pleasure of his audience, and if Lord Lipton was not someone who could expect to win electoral office leading a government, he did not appear to have such an ambition and that made him considerably less threatening to those who might have found his elevated tone and moral sentiments to be more than a bit insufferably saintly had it come from someone who had more obvious ambitions to lead governments and achieve a lasting historical reputation based on political oratory. Still, if future speeches were like that, those who knew the general quality of the speaking of the lords felt that the average level of eloquence would be increased by his speaking more and allowing less time for those who could barely string two words together that did not involve requests for more port to fill their overflowing glasses. Whatever else could be said about Lord Lipton and his love of eating and drinking within moderation, he could certainly string together more than two coherent words together, and that was not something that could be said for all of the peers of the realm, it must be admitted. Since he did not appear to aim for the level of an Isocrates or a Cicero, such predilections as he had for overly fanciful language were by no means unique or by no means offensive to his audience.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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