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|Captain and Mrs Norris( rather long)
Written by JulieW
(10/15/2007 11:42 a.m.)
I do apologise for the length of this post: it contains quite long quotes from Thomas Clarkson's book on the abolition of the Slave trade, but I do hope ,after trudging through it all ,you will understand why I've included every reference he made to a certain Captain Norris ;-)
This is the first of series of posts I hope to make in this GR about the possible use JA may have made of the names and character introduced by Thomas Clarkson in his book The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament,(1808)
I think you will agree that from the earliest chapters in this book, JA paints an uncomplimentary portrait of Mrs Norris.
She is portrayed as a hateful bully of a woman, a flatterer and a hypocrite, freely spending and committing others to expense while she economises and avoids responsibility by weasel words.
…for Sir Thomas was fully resolved to be the real and consistent patron of the selected child, and Mrs. Norris had not the least intention of being at any expense whatever in her maintenance. As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached, she was thoroughly benevolent, and nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friends. Having married on a narrower income than she had been used to look forward to, she had, from the first, fancied a very strict line of economy necessary; and what was begun as a matter of prudence, soon grew into a matter of choice, as an object of that needful solicitude which there were no children to supply. Had there been a family to provide for, Mrs. Norris might never have saved her money; but having no care of that kind, there was nothing to impede her frugality, or lessen the comfort of making a yearly addition to an income which they had never lived up to. Under this infatuating principle, counteracted by no real affection for her sister, it was impossible for her to aim at more than the credit of projecting and arranging so expensive a charity; though perhaps she might so little know herself as to walk home to the Parsonage, after this conversation, in the happy belief of being the most liberal–minded sister and aunt in the world.
She is not , IMHO, even at this early stage in the novel in any way depicted as a sympathetic character by JA.
I think JA may have had for her inspiration for this despised character, one Captain Robert Norris of Liverpool who is mentioned at length by Clarkson.
First hand evidence from sailors and surgeons who had served on board slave ships and slave owners was obviously going to be the best he cold offer: but it was going to be difficult to arrange for this important evidence to be presented to the Committees given the immense power of those in the salve trade and the fear of intimidation to which anyone choosing to criticise them might rightly expect to receive.
Imagine then his immense satisfaction on meeting Mr Robert Norris( who used to be a sea captain) from Liverpool, who readily agreed to help him:
My friend William Rathbone, who had been looking out to supply me with intelligence, but who was desirous that I should not be imposed upon, and that I should get it from the fountain-head, introduced me to Mr. Norris for this purpose.
Norris had been formerly a slave-captain, but had quitted the trade and settled as a merchant in a different line of business.
He was a man of quick penetration, and of good talents, which he had cultivated to advantage, and he had a pleasing address both as to speech and manners. He received me with great politeness, and offered me all the information I desired. I was with him five or six times at his own house for this purpose.
The substance of his communications on these occasions I shall now put down, and I beg the reader’s particular attention to it, as he will be referred to it in other parts of this work.
With respect to the produce of Africa, Mr. Norris enumerated many articles in which a new and valuable trade might be opened, of which he gave me one, namely, the black pepper from Whidàh before mentioned. This he gave me, to use his own expressions, as one argument among many others of the impolicy of the Slave-trade, which, by turning the attention of the inhabitants to the persons of one another for sale, hindered foreigners from discovering, and themselves from cultivating, many of the valuable productions of their own soil.
On the subject of procuring slaves he gave it as his decided opinion, that many of the inhabitants of Africa were kidnapped by each other, as they were travelling on the roads, or fishing in the creeks, or cultivating their little spots. Having learnt their language, he had collected the fact from various quarters, but more particularly from the accounts of slaves, whom he had transported in his own vessels.
With respect however to Whidàh, many came from thence, who were reduced to slavery in a different manner. The king of Dahomey, whose life (with the wars and customs of the Dahomans) he said he was then writing, and who was a very despotic prince, made no scruple of seizing his own subjects, and of selling them, if he was in want of any of the articles which the slave-vessels would afford him.
The history of this prince’s life he lent me afterwards to read, while it was yet in manuscript, in which I observed that he had recorded all the facts now mentioned.
Indeed he made no hesitation to state them, either when we were by ourselves, or when others were in company with us.
He repeated them at one time in the presence both of Mr. Cruden and of Mr. Coupland. The latter was then a slave-merchant at Liverpool. He seemed to be fired at the relation of these circumstances. Unable to restrain himself longer, he entered into a defence of the trade, both as to the humanity and the policy of it. But Mr. Norris took up his arguments in both these cases, and answered them in a solid manner.
With respect to the Slave-trade, as it affected the health of our seamen, Mr. Norris admitted it to be destructive, But I did not stand in need of this information, as I knew this part of the subject, in consequence of my familiarity with the muster-rolls, better than himself.
He admitted it also to be true, that they were too frequently ill-treated in this trade.
A day or two after our conversation on this latter subject he brought me the manuscript journal of a voyage to Africa, which had been kept by a mate, with whom he was then acquainted. He brought it to me to read, as it might throw some light upon the subject on which we had talked last. In this manuscript various instances of cruel usage towards seamen were put down, from which it appeared that the mate, who wrote it, had not escaped himself.
At the last interview we had he seemed to be so satisfied of the inhumanity, injustice, and impolicy of the trade, that he made me a voluntary offer of certain clauses, which he had been thinking of, and which, he believed, if put into an act of parliament, would judiciously effect its abolition. The offer of these clauses I embraced eagerly. He dictated them, and I wrote. I wrote them in a small book which I had then in my pocket. They were these:
No vessel under a heavy penalty to supply foreigners with slaves.
Every vessel to pay to government a tax for a register on clearing out to supply our own islands with slaves.
Every such vessel to be prohibited from purchasing or bringing home any of the productions of Africa.
Every such vessel to be prohibited from bringing home a passenger, or any article of produce, from the West Indies.
A bounty to be given to every vessel trading in the natural productions of Africa. This bounty to be paid in part out of the tax arising from the registers of the slave-vessels.
Certain establishments to be made by government in Africa, in the Bananas, in the Isles de Los, on the banks of the Camaranca, and in other places, for the encouragement and support of the new trade to be substituted there.
Such then were the services, which Mr. Norris, at the request of William Rathbone, rendered me at Liverpool, during my stay there; and I have been very particular in detailing them, because I shall be obliged to allude to them, as I have before observed, on some important occasions in a future part of the work.
The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1 Chapter XVII
Wonderful……or so it seemed.
Things got more problematical when it came to actually getting Mr. Norris to testify in support of the abolition:
A report having gone abroad, that the committee of privy council would only examine those who were interested in the continuance of the trade, I found it necessary to call upon Mr. Pitt again, and to inform him of it, when I received an assurance that every person, whom I chose to send to the council in behalf of the committee, should be heard. ..The only persons, we could then count upon, were Mr. Ramsay, Mr. H. Gandy, Mr. Falconbridge, Mr. Newton, and the Dean of Middleham. There was one, however, who would be a host of himself, if we could but gain him. I then mentioned Mr. Norris. I told Mr. Pitt the nature and value of the testimony which he had given me at Liverpool, and the great zeal he had discovered to serve the cause. I doubted, however, if he would come to London for this purpose, even if I wrote to him; for he was intimate with almost all the owners of slave-vessels in Liverpool, and living among these he would not like to incur their resentment, by taking a prominent part against them.
I therefore entreated Mr. Pitt to send him a summons of council to attend, hoping that Mr. Norris would then be pleased to come up, as he would be enabled to reply to his friends, that his appearance had not been voluntary. Mr. Pitt, however, informed me, that a summons from a committee of privy council sitting as a board of trade was not binding upon the subject, and therefore that I had no other means left but of writing to him, and he desired me to do this by the first post.
I called upon him for this purpose, but he was out. He sent me, however, a letter soon afterwards, which was full of flattery, and in which, after having paid high compliments to the general force of my arguments, and the general justice and humanity of my sentiments on this great question, which had made a deep impression upon his mind, he had found occasion to differ from me, since we had last parted, on particular points, and that he had therefore less reluctantly yielded to the call of becoming a delegate — though notwithstanding he would gladly have declined the office if he could have done it with propriety.
The evidence which they gave, as previously concerted between themselves, may be shortly represented thus: They denied that kidnapping either did or could take place in Africa, or that wars were made there, for the purpose of procuring slaves. Having done away these wicked practices from their system, they maintained positions which were less exceptionable, or that the natives of Africa generally became slaves in consequence of having been made prisoners in just wars, or in consequence of their various crimes. They then gave a melancholy picture of the despotism and barbarity of some of the African princes, among whom the custom of sacrificing their own subjects prevailed. But, of all others, that which was afforded by Mr. Norris on this ground was the most frightful. The king of Dahomey, he said, sported with the lives of his people in the most wanton manner. He had seen at the gates of his palace, two piles of heads like those of shot in an arsenal. Within the palace the heads of persons newly put to death were strewed at the distance of a few yards in the passage which led to his apartment. This custom of human sacrifice by the king of Dahomey was not on one occasion only, but on many; such as on the reception of messengers from neighbouring states, or of white merchants, or on days of ceremonial. But the great carnage was once a year, when the poll tax was paid by his subjects. A thousand persons at least were sacrificed annually on these different occasions. The great men, too, of the country cut off a few heads on festival-days.
From all these particulars the humanity of the Slave-trade was inferred, because it took away the inhabitants of Africa into lands where no such barbarities were known. But the humanity of it was insisted upon by positive circumstances also, namely, that a great number of the slaves were prisoners of war, and that in former times all such were put to death, whereas now they were saved; so that there was a great accession of happiness to Africa since the introduction of the Trade.
It began to be known also, (for Mr. Pitt and the Bishop of London took care that it should be circulated,) that Mr. Norris had but a short time before furnished me at Liverpool with information, all of which he had concealed from the council, but all of which made for the abolition of it.
Mr. Devaynes also, a respectable member of parliament, who had been in Africa, and who had been appealed to by Mr. Norris, when examined before the privy council, in behalf of his extraordinary facts, was unable, when summoned, to confirm them to the desired extent.
From this evidence the council collected, that human sacrifices were not made on the arrival of White traders, as had been asserted; that there was no poll-tax in Dahomey at all; and that Mr. Norris must have been mistaken on these points, for he must have been there at the time of the ceremony of watering the graves, when about sixty persons suffered. This latter custom moreover appeared to have been a religious superstition of the country, such as at Otaheite, or in Britain in the time of the Druids, and to have had nothing to do with the Slave-trade . With respect to prisoners of war, Mr. Devaynes allowed that the old, the lame, and the wounded, were often put to death on the spot; but this was to save the trouble of bringing them away. The young and the healthy were driven off for sale; but if they were not sold when offered, they were not killed, but reserved for another market, or became house-slaves to the conquerors, Mr. Devaynes also maintained, contrary to the allegations of the others, that a great number of persons were kidnapped in order to be sold to the ships, and that the government, where this happened, was not strong enough to prevent it. But besides these draw-backs from the weight of the testimony which had been given, it began to be perceived by some of the lords of the council, that the cruel superstitions which had been described, obtained only in one or two countries in Africa, and these of insignificant extent; whereas at the time, when their minds were carried away as it were by their feelings, they had supposed them to attach to the whole of that vast continent. They perceived also, that there were circumstances related in the evidence by the delegates themselves, by means of which, if they were true, the inhumanity of the trade might be established, and this to their own disgrace. They had all confessed that such slaves as the White traders refused to buy were put to death; and yet that these traders, knowing that this would be the case, had the barbarity uniformly to reject those whom it did not suit them to purchase. Mr. Matthews had rejected one of this description himself, whom he saw afterwards destroyed. Mr. Penny had known the refuse thrown down Melimba rock.
Mr. Norris himself, when certain prisoners of war were offered to him for sale, declined buying them because they appeared unhealthy; and though the king then told him that he would put them to death, he could not be prevailed upon to take them, but left them to their hard fate; and he had the boldness to state afterwards, that it was his belief that many of them actually suffered.
Mr Norris's duplicity didn’t end there…….
At length, the twelfth of May arrived. Mr. Wilberforce rose up in the Commons, and moved the order of the day for the house to resolve itself into a committee of the whole house, to take into consideration the petitions, which had been presented against the Slave-trade….
Having said thus much on the subject of procuring slaves in Africa, he would now go to that of the transportation of them. And here he had fondly hoped, that when men with affections and feelings like our own had been torn from their country, and every thing dear to them, he should have found some mitigation of their sufferings: but the sad reverse was the case. This was the most wretched part of the whole subject. He was incapable of impressing the house with what he felt upon it. A description of their conveyance was impossible. So much misery condensed in so little room was more than the human imagination had ever before conceived.
The Committee were then shown the now famous picture of the real conditions under which slaves were transported: this is a copy of that diagram of the slave vessel "The Brooks":
As Clarkson scathingly notes:
Such was the picture, which the committee were obliged to draw, if they regarded mathematical accuracy, of the room allotted to the slaves in this vessel. By this picture was exhbited the nature of the Elysium, which Mr. Norris and others had invonted for them during their transportation from their own country. By this picture were seen also the advantages of Sir William Dolben’s bill; for many, on looking at the plate, considered the regulation itself as perfect barbarism. The advantages however obtained by it were considerable; for the Brookes was now restricted to four hundred and fifty slaves, whereas it was proved that she carried six hundred and nine in a former voyage
Clarksons final mention of Mr Norris is quite revealing :
The witnesses in behalf of the abolition of the Slave-trade now took possession of the ground, which those in favour of it had left. But what was our surprise, when only three of them had been heard, to find that Mr. Norris should come forward as an evidence! This he did to confirm what he had stated to the privy council as to the general question; but he did it more particularly, as it appeared afterwards, in the justification of his own conduct: for the part, which he had taken at Liverpool, as it related to me, had become a subject of conversation with many. It was now well known, what assistance he had given me there in my pursuit; how he had even furnished me with clauses for a bill for the abolition of the trade; how I had written to him, in consequence of his friendly cooperation, to come up as an evidence in our favour; and how at that moment he had accepted the office of a delegate on the contrary side.
The noise, which the relation and repetition of these and other circumstances had made, had given him, I believe, considerable pain.
His friends too had urged some explanation as necessary.
But how short-sighted are they who do wrong! By coming forward in this imprudent manner, he fixed the stain only the more indelibly on himself; for he thus imposed upon me the cruel necessity of being examined against him; and this necessity was the more afflicting to me, because I was to be called upon, not to state facts relative to the trade, but to destroy his character as an evidence in its support.
I was to be called upon, in fact, to explain all those communications, which have been stated to have taken place between us on this subject. Glad indeed should I have been to have declined this painful interference. But no one would hear of a refusal. The Bishop of London, Mr. Pitt, and Mr. Wilberforce, considered my appearance on this occasion as an imperious duty to the cause of the oppressed. It may be perhaps sufficient to say, that I was examined; that Mr. Norris was present all the time; that I was cross-examined by counsel; and that after this time, Mr. Norris seemed to have no ordinary sense of his own degradation; for he never afterwards held up his head, or looked the abolitionists in the face, or acted with energy as a delegate, as on former occasions.
Now I think it no coincidence at all that JA created a monster in the character of Mrs Norris who was, IMHO , inspired by the barefaced lies of this man with regard to giving evidence he gave against Clarkson , toether with his appalling fabrication of the slaves actual living conditions on board the slave ships( which frankly take my breath away even at this remove).
Bear in mind his turn of phrase, his flattery, his changing of sides and his double dealing and compare it to the behaviour of Mrs Norris as we go through this novel : I think you will find there are many similarities……and that, I submit, was a deliberate act on JA's part.
Talk about revenge being a dish best served cold…..
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