Monday, August 3, 2009
Rebecca Gratz & Charles Dickens. Part 2
In the midst of her comments about Dickens' American Notes, Gratz departs from her discussion of the book's merits and writes on a more personal level: "I do not know what Rosa [her niece Rosa Hays Marx] will say about his [Dickens'] description of her Cottage though he compliments her husband." Dickens had written of a visit he made to a plantation outside of Richmond, which must have been Rosa and Charles Marx's Wheatland.
"The planter's house," Dickens wrote, "was an airy rustic dwelling....the blinds being all closed and the windows and doors set wide open, a shady coolness rustled through the rooms which was exquisitely refreshing after the glare and heat without...." Dickens went to the slave quarters but was not invited to go into "the crazy, wretched cabins, near to which naked children basked in the sun...." Nevertheless, he concluded, "I believe this gentleman [Charles Marx, the owner] is a considerate and excellent master, who inherited his fifty slaves, and is neither a buyer or seller of human stock; and I am sure, from my own observation and conviction, that he is a kind-hearted, worthy man."
I have found only one letter from Rosa Hays Marx: it was written shortly after her marriage and in it she praises her husband for his kindness to his slaves. I had previously discounted her comments as those of a woman in love, but Charles Dickens was certainly not in love with the man or the institution of slavery. Rosa's and Dickens' words make me want to know more about Charles Marx. He seems to have been aware of and trying to mitigate the cruelty of the immoral system in which he was enmeshed; as such, he stood somewhat apart from the many Southerners who were eager to expound on the virtues of a slave society to any and everyone.
(See the previous posting for sources. Rosa's letter to Rebecca Gratz, dated June 24, 1836, is from the Gratz Family Collection, Manuscript Collection No. 72, at the American Philosophical Society.)