Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 122 pages of information about Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs.  I was myself within the circle; so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see and hear.  They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish.  Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.  The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness.  I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing them.  The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek.  To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery.  I can never get rid of that conception.  Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds.  If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul,—­and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because “there is no flesh in his obdurate heart.”

I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness.  It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake.  Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy.  The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.  At least, such is my experience.  I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness.  Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery.  The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.

CHAPTER III

Colonel Lloyd kept a large and finely cultivated garden, which afforded almost constant employment for four men, besides the chief gardener, (Mr. M’Durmond.) This garden was probably the greatest attraction of the place.  During the summer months, people came from far and near—­from Baltimore, Easton, and Annapolis—­to see it.  It abounded in fruits of almost every description, from the hardy apple of the north to the delicate orange of the south.  This garden was not the least source of trouble on the plantation.  Its excellent fruit was quite a temptation to the hungry swarms of boys, as well

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