VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.martinlutherking.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
  Home - Biography - I Have a Dream Speech - QuotesBlack History: Articles - Poems - Authors - Speeches - Folk Rhymes - Slavery Interviews

SOJOURNER TRUTH, THE LIBYAN SIBYL







by: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Many years ago, the few readers of radical Abolitionist papers

must often have seen the singular name of Sojourner Truth,

announced as a frequent speaker at Anti-Slavery meetings, and as

travelling on a sort of self-appointed agency through the country.

I had myself often remarked the name, but never met the

individual. On one occasion, when our house was filled with

company, several eminent clergymen being our guests, notice was

brought up to me that Sojourner Truth was below, and requested an

interview. Knowing nothing of her but her singular name, I went

down, prepared to make the interview short, as the pressure of

many other engagements demanded.



When I went into the room, a tall, spare form arose to meet me.

She was evidently a full-blooded African, and though now aged and

worn with many hardships, still gave the impression of a physical

development which in early youth must have been as fine a specimen

of the torrid zone as Cumberworth's celebrated statuette of the

Negro Woman at the Fountain. Indeed, she so strongly reminded me

of that figure, that, when I recall the events of her life, as she

narrated them to me, I imagine her as a living, breathing

impersonation of that work of art.



I do not recollect ever to have been conversant with any one who

had more of that silent and subtle power which we call personal

presence than this woman. In the modern Spiritualistic

phraseology, she would be described as having a strong sphere.

Her tall form, as she rose up before me, is still vivid to my

mind. She was dressed in some stout, grayish stuff, neat and

clean, though dusty from travel. On her head, she wore a bright

Madras handkerchief, arranged as a turban, after the manner of her

race. She seemed perfectly self-possessed and at her ease,--in

fact, there was almost an unconscious superiority, not unmixed

with a solemn twinkle of humor, in the odd, composed manner in

which she looked down on me. Her whole air had at times a gloomy

sort of drollery which impressed one strangely.



"So this is YOU," she said.



"Yes," I answered.



"Well, honey, de Lord bless ye! I jes' thought I'd like to come

an' have a look at ye. You's heerd o' me, I reckon?" she added.



"Yes, I think I have. You go about lecturing, do you not?"



"Yes, honey, that's what I do. The Lord has made me a sign unto

this nation, an' I go round a'testifyin', an' showin' on 'em their

sins agin my people."



So saying, she took a seat, and, stooping over and crossing her

arms on her knees, she looked down on the floor, and appeared to

fall into a sort of reverie. Her great gloomy eyes and her dark

face seemed to work with some undercurrent of feeling; she sighed

deeply, and occasionally broke out,--



"O Lord! O Lord! Oh, the tears, an' the groans, an' the moans!

O Lord!"



I should have said that she was accompanied by a little grandson

of ten years,--the fattest, jolliest woolly-headed little specimen

of Africa that one can imagine. He was grinning and showing his

glistening white teeth in a state of perpetual merriment, and at

this moment broke out into an audible giggle, which disturbed the

reverie into which his relative was falling.



She looked at him with an indulgent sadness, and then at me.



"Laws, Ma'am, HE don't know nothin' about it--HE don't. Why, I've

seen them poor critters, beat an' 'bused an' hunted, brought in

all torn,--ears hangin' all in rags, where the dogs been a'bitin'

of 'em!"



This set off our little African Puck into another giggle, in which

he seemed perfectly convulsed.



She surveyed him soberly, without the slightest irritation.



"Well, you may bless the Lord you CAN laugh; but I tell you, 't

wa'n't no laughin' matter."



By this time I thought her manner so original that it might be

worth while to call down my friends; and she seemed perfectly well

pleased with the idea. An audience was what she wanted,--it

mattered not whether high or low, learned or ignorant. She had

things to say, and was ready to say them at all times, and to any

one.



I called down Dr. Beecher, Professor Allen, and two or three other

clergymen, who, together with my husband and family, made a

roomful. No princess could have received a drawing-room with more

composed dignity than Sojourner her audience. She stood among

them, calm and erect, as one of her own native palm-trees waving

alone in the desert. I presented one after another to her, and at

last said,--



"Sojourner, this is Dr. Beecher. He is a very celebrated

preacher."



"IS he?" she said, offering her hand in a condescending manner,

and looking down on his white head. "Ye dear lamb, I'm glad to

see ye! De Lord bless ye! I loves preachers. I'm a kind o'

preacher myself."



"You are?" said Dr. Beecher. "Do you preach from the Bible?"



"No, honey, can't preach from de Bible,--can't read a letter."



"Why, Sojourner, what do you preach from, then?"



Her answer was given with a solemn power of voice, peculiar to

herself, that hushed every one in the room.



"When I preaches, I has jest one text to preach from, an' I always

preaches from this one. MY text is, 'WHEN I FOUND JESUS.'"



"Well, you couldn't have a better one," said one of the ministers.



She paid no attention to him, but stood and seemed swelling with

her own thoughts, and then began this narration:--



"Well, now, I'll jest have to go back, an' tell ye all about it.

Ye see, we was all brought over from Africa, father an' mother an'

I, an' a lot more of us; an' we was sold up an' down, an' hither

an' yon; an' I can 'member, when I was a little thing, not bigger

than this 'ere," pointing to her grandson, "how my ole mammy would

sit out o' doors in the evenin', an' look up at the stars an'

groan. She'd groan an' groan, an' says I to her,--



"'Mammy, what makes you groan so?'



"an' she'd say,--



"'Matter enough, chile! I'm groanin' to think o' my poor

children: they don't know where I be, an' I don't know where they

be; they looks up at the stars, an' I looks up at the stars, but I

can't tell where they be.



"'Now,' she said, 'chile, when you're grown up, you may be sold

away from your mother an' all your ole friends, an' have great

troubles come on ye; an' when you has these troubles come on ye,

ye jes' go to God, an' He'll help ye.'



"An' says I to her,--



"'Who is God, anyhow, mammy?'



"An' says she,--



"'Why, chile, you jes' look up DAR! It's Him that made all DEM!"



"Well, I didn't mind much 'bout God in them days. I grew up

pretty lively an' strong, an' could row a boat, or ride a horse,

or work round, an' do 'most anything.



"At last I got sold away to a real hard massa an' missis. Oh, I

tell you, they WAS hard! 'Peared like I couldn't please 'em,

nohow. An' then I thought o' what my old mammy told me about God;

an' I thought I'd got into trouble, sure enough, an' I wanted to

find God, an' I heerd some one tell a story about a man that met

God on a threshin'-floor, an' I thought, 'Well an' good, I'll have

a threshin'-floor, too.' So I went down in the lot, an' I

threshed down a place real hard, an' I used to go down there every

day, an' pray an' cry with all my might, a-prayin' to the Lord to

make my massa an' missis better, but it didn't seem to do no good;

an' so says I, one day,--



"'O God, I been a-askin' ye, an' askin' ye, an' askin' ye, for all

this long time, to make my massa an' missis better, an' you don't

do it, an' what CAN be the reason? Why, maybe you CAN'T. Well, I

shouldn't wonder ef you couldn't. Well, now, I tell you, I'll

make a bargain with you. Ef you'll help me to git away from my

massa an' missis, I'll agree to be good; but ef you don't help me,

I really don't think I can be. Now,' says I, 'I want to git away;

but the trouble's jest here: ef I try to git away in the night, I

can't see; an' ef I try to git away in the daytime, they'll see

me, an' be after me.'



"Then the Lord said to me, 'Git up two or three hours afore

daylight, an' start off.'



"An' says I, 'Thank 'ee, Lord! that's a good thought.'



"So up I got, about three o'clock in the mornin', an' I started

an' travelled pretty fast, till, when the sun rose, I was clear

away from our place an' our folks, an' out o' sight. An' then I

begun to think I didn't know nothin' where to go. So I kneeled

down, and says I,--



"'Well, Lord, you've started me out, an' now please to show me

where to go.'



"Then the Lord made a house appear to me, an' He said to me that I

was to walk on till I saw that house, an' then go in an' ask the

people to take me. An' I travelled all day, an' didn't come to

the house till late at night; but when I saw it, sure enough, I

went in, an' I told the folks that the Lord sent me; an' they was

Quakers, an' real kind they was to me. They jes' took me in, an'

did for me as kind as ef I'd been one of 'em; an' after they'd giv

me supper, they took me into a room where there was a great, tall,

white bed; an' they told me to sleep there. Well, honey, I was

kind o' skeered when they left me alone with that great white bed;

'cause I never had been in a bed in my life. It never came into

my mind they could mean me to sleep in it. An' so I jes' camped

down under it, on the floor, an' then I slep' pretty well. In the

mornin', when they came in, they asked me ef I hadn't been asleep;

an' I said, 'Yes, I never slep' better.' An' they said, 'Why, you

haven't been in the bed!' An' says I, 'Laws, you didn't think o'

such a thing as my sleepin' in dat 'ar' BED, did you? I never

heerd o' such a thing in my life.'



"Well, ye see, honey, I stayed an' lived with 'em. An' now jes'

look here: instead o' keepin' my promise an' bein' good, as I told

the Lord I would, jest as soon as everything got a'goin' easy, I

FORGOT ALL ABOUT GOD.



"Pretty well don't need no help; an' I gin up prayin.' I lived

there two or three years, an' then the slaves in New York were all

set free, an' ole massa came to our home to make a visit, an' he

asked me ef I didn't want to go back an' see the folks on the ole

place. An' I told him I did. So he said, ef I'd jes' git into

the wagon with him, he'd carry me over. Well, jest as I was goin'

out to git into the wagon, I MET GOD! an' says I, 'O God, I didn't

know as you was so great!' An' I turned right round an' come into

the house, an' set down in my room; for 't was God all around me.

I could feel it burnin', burnin', burnin' all around me, an' goin'

through me; an' I saw I was so wicked, it seemed as ef it would

burn me up. An' I said, 'O somebody, somebody, stand between God

an' me! for it burns me!' Then, honey, when I said so, I felt as

it were somethin' like an amberill [umbrella] that came between me

an' the light, an' I felt it was SOMEBODY,--somebody that stood

between me an' God; an' it felt cool, like a shade; an' says I,

'Who's this that stands between me an' God? Is it old Cato?' He

was a pious old preacher; but then I seemed to see Cato in the

light, an' he was all polluted an' vile, like me; an' I said, 'Is

it old Sally?' an' then I saw her, an' she seemed jes' so. An'

then says I, 'WHO is this?' An' then, honey, for a while it was

like the sun shinin' in a pail o' water, when it moves up an'

down; for I begun to feel 't was somebody that loved me; an' I

tried to know him. An' I said, 'I know you! I know you! I know

you!'--an' then I said, 'I don't know you! I don't know you! I

don't know you!' An' when I said, 'I know you, I know you,' the

light came; an' when I said, 'I don't know you, I don't know you,'

it went, jes' like the sun in a pail o' water. An' finally

somethin' spoke out in me an' said, 'THIS IS JESUS!' An' I spoke

out with all my might, an' says I, 'THIS IS JESUS! Glory be to

God!' An' then the whole world grew bright, an' the trees they

waved an' waved in glory, an' every little bit o' stone on the

ground shone like glass; an' I shouted an' said, 'Praise, praise,

praise to the Lord!' An' I begun to feel such a love in my soul

as I never felt before,--love to all creatures. An' then, all of

a sudden, it stopped, an' I said, 'Dar's de white folks, that have

abused you an' beat you an' abused your people,--think o' them!'

But then there came another rush of love through my soul, an' I

cried out loud,--'Lord, Lord, I can love EVEN DE WHITE FOLKS!'



"Honey, I jes' walked round an' round in a dream. Jesus loved me!

I knowed it,--I felt it. Jesus was my Jesus. Jesus would love me

always. I didn't dare tell nobody; 't was a great secret.

Everything had been got away from me that I ever had; an' I

thought that ef I let white folks know about this, maybe they'd

get HIM away,--so I said, 'I'll keep this close. I won't let any

one know.'"



"But, Sojourner, had you never been told about Jesus Christ?"



"No, honey. I hadn't heerd no preachin',--been to no meetin'.

Nobody hadn't told me. I'd kind o' heerd of Jesus, but thought he

was like Gineral Lafayette, or some o' them. But one night there

was a Methodist meetin' somewhere in our parts, an' I went; an'

they got up an' begun for to tell der 'speriences; an' de fust one

begun to speak. I started, 'cause he told about Jesus. 'Why,'

says I to myself, 'dat man's found him, too!' An' another got up

an' spoke, an I said, 'He's found him, too!' An' finally I said,

'Why, they all know him!' I was so happy! An' then they sung

this hymn": (Here Sojourner sang, in a strange, cracked voice, but

evidently with all her soul and might, mispronouncing the English,

but seeming to derive as much elevation and comfort from bad

English as from good):--





'There is a holy city,

A world of light above,

Above the stairs and regions,*

Built by the God of Love.



"An Everlasting temple,

And saints arrayed in white

There serve their great Redeemer

And dwell with him in light.



"The meanest child of glory

Outshines the radiant sun;

But who can speak the splendor

Of Jesus on his throne?



"Is this the man of sorrows

Who stood at Pilate's bar,

Condemned by haughty Herod

And by his men of war?



"He seems a mighty conqueror,

Who spoiled the powers below,

And ransomed many captives

From everlasting woe.



"The hosts of saints around him

Proclaim his work of grace,

The patriarchs and prophets,

And all the godly race,



"Who speak of fiery trials

And tortures on their way;

They came from tribulation

To everlasting day.



"And what shall be my journey,

How long I'll stay below,

Or what shall be my trials,

Are not for me to know.



"In every day of trouble

I'll raise my thoughts on high,

I'll think of that bright temple

And crowns above the sky."



* Starry regions.





I put in this whole hymn, because Sojourner, carried away with her

own feeling, sang it from beginning to end with a triumphant

energy that held the whole circle around her intently listening.

She sang with the strong barbaric accent of the native African,

and with those indescribable upward turns and those deep gutturals

which give such a wild, peculiar power to the negro singing,--but

above all, with such an overwhelming energy of personal

appropriation that the hymn seemed to be fused in the furnace of

her feelings and come out recrystallized as a production of her

own.



It is said that Rachel was wont to chant the "Marseillaise" in a

manner that made her seem, for the time, the very spirit and

impersonation of the gaunt, wild, hungry, avenging mob which rose

against aristocratic oppression; and in like manner, Sojourner,

singing this hymn, seemed to impersonate the fervor of Ethiopia,

wild, savage, hunted of all nations, but burning after God in her

tropic heart, and stretching her scarred hands towards the glory

to be revealed.



"Well, den ye see, after a while, I thought I'd go back an' see de

folks on de ole place. Well, you know, de law had passed dat de

culled folks was all free; an' my old missis, she had a daughter

married about dis time who went to live in Alabama,--an' what did

she do but give her my son, a boy about de age of dis yer, for her

to take down to Alabama? When I got back to de ole place, they

told me about it, an' I went right up to see ole missis, an' says

I,--



"'Missis, have you been an' sent my son away down to Alabama?'



"'Yes, I have,' says she; 'he's gone to live with your young

missis.'



"'Oh, Missis,' says I, 'how could you do it?'



"'Poh!' says she, 'what a fuss you make about a little nigger!

Got more of 'em now than you know what to do with.'



"I tell you, I stretched up. I felt as tall as the world!



"'Missis,' says I, 'I'LL HAVE MY SON BACK AGIN!'



"She laughed.



"'YOU will, you nigger? How you goin' to do it? You ha'n't got

no money."



"'No, Missis,--but GOD has,--an' you'll see He'll help me!'--an' I

turned round an' went out.



"Oh, but I WAS angry to have her speak to me so haughty an' so

scornful, as ef my chile wasn't worth anything. I said to God, 'O

Lord, render unto her double!' It was a dreadful prayer, an' I

didn't know how true it would come.



"Well, I didn't rightly know which way to turn; but I went to the

Lord, an' I said to Him, 'O Lord, ef I was as rich as you be, an'

you was as poor as I be, I'd help you,--you KNOW I would; and, oh,

do help me!' An' I felt sure then that He would.



"Well, I talked with people, an' they said I must git the case

before a grand jury. So I went into the town when they was

holdin' a court, to see ef I could find any grand jury. An' I

stood round the court-house, an' when they was a-comin' out, I

walked right up to the grandest-lookin' one I could see, an' says

I to him,--



"'Sir, be you a grand jury?'



"An' then he wanted to know why I asked, an' I told him all about

it; an' he asked me all sorts of questions, an' finally he says to

me,--



"'I think, ef you pay me ten dollars, that I'd agree to git your

son for you.' An' says he, pointin' to a house over the way, 'You

go 'long an' tell your story to the folks in that house, an' I

guess they'll give you the money.'



"Well, I went, an' I told them, an' they gave me twenty dollars;

an' then I thought to myself, 'Ef ten dollars will git him, twenty

dollars will git him SARTIN.' So I carried it to the man all out,

an' said,--



"'Take it all,--only be sure an' git him.'



"Well, finally they got the boy brought back; an' then they tried

to frighten him, an' to make him say that I wasn't his mammy, an'

that he didn't know me; but they couldn't make it out. They gave

him to me, an' I took him an' carried him home; an' when I came to

take off his clothes, there was his poor little back all covered

with scars an' hard lumps, where they'd flogged him.



"Well, you see, honey, I told you how I prayed the Lord to render

unto her double. Well, it came true; for I was up at ole missis'

house not long after, an' I heerd 'em readin' a letter to her how

her daughter's husband had murdered her,--how he'd thrown her down

an' stamped the life out of her, when he was in liquor; an' my ole

missis, she giv a screech, an' fell flat on the floor. Then says

I, 'O Lord, I didn't mean all that! You took me up too quick.'



"Well, I went in an' tended that poor critter all night. She was

out of her mind,--a-cryin', an' callin' for her daughter; an' I

held her poor ole head on my arm, an' watched for her as ef she'd

been my babby. An' I watched by her, an' took care on her all

through her sickness after that, an' she died in my arms, poor

thing!"



"Well, Sojourner, did you always go by this name?"



"No, 'deed! My name was Isabella; but when I left the house of

bondage, I left everything behind. I wa'n't goin' to keep nothin'

of Egypt on me, an' so I went to the Lord an' asked Him to give me

a new name. And the Lord gave me Sojourner, because I was to

travel up an' down the land, showin' the people their sins, an'

bein' a sign unto them. Afterwards I told the Lord I wanted

another name, 'cause everybody else had two names; and the Lord

gave me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to the people.



"Ye see some ladies have given me a white satin banner," she said,

pulling out of her pocket and unfolding a white banner, printed

with many texts, such as, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the

land unto all the inhabitants thereof," and others of like nature.

"Well," she said, "I journeys round to camp-meetins, an' wherever

folks is, an' I sets up my banner, an' then I sings, an' then

folks always comes up round me, an' then I preaches to 'em. I

tells 'em about Jesus, an' I tells 'em about the sins of this

people. A great many always comes to hear me; an' they're right

good to me, too, an' say they want to hear me agin."



We all thought it likely; and as the company left her, they shook

hands with her, and thanked her for her very original sermon; and

one of the ministers was overheard to say to another, "There's

more of the gospel in that story than in most sermons."



Sojourner stayed several days with us, a welcome guest. Her

conversation was so strong, simple, shrewd, and with such a droll

flavoring of humor, that the Professor was wont to say of an

evening, "Come, I am dull, can't you get Sojourner up here to talk

a little?" She would come up into the parlor, and sit among

pictures and ornaments, in her simple stuff gown, with her heavy

travelling-shoes, the central object of attention both to parents

and children, always ready to talk or to sing, and putting into

the common flow of conversation the keen edge of some shrewd

remark.



"Sojourner, what do you think of Women's Rights?"



"Well, honey, I's ben to der meetins, an' harked a good deal. Dey

wanted me for to speak. So I got up. Says I,--'Sisters, I a'n't

clear what you'd be after. Ef women want any rights more 'n dey's

got, why don't dey jes' TAKE 'EM, an' not be talkin' about it?'

Some on 'em came round me, an' asked why I didn't wear Bloomers.

An' I told 'em I had Bloomers enough when I was in bondage. You

see," she said, "dey used to weave what dey called nigger-cloth,

an' each one of us got jes' sech a strip, an' had to wear it

width-wise. Them that was short got along pretty well, but as for

me"--She gave an indescribably droll glance at her long limbs

and then at us, and added,--"Tell YOU, I had enough of Bloomers in

them days."



Sojourner then proceeded to give her views of the relative

capacity of the sexes, in her own way.



"S'pose a man's mind holds a quart, an' a woman's don't hold but a

pint; ef her pint is FULL, it's as good as his quart."



Sojourner was fond of singing an extraordinary lyric, commencing,--





"I'm on my way to Canada,

That cold, but happy land;

The dire effects of Slavery

I can no longer stand.

O righteous Father,

Do look down on me,

And help me on to Canada,

Where colored folks are free!"





The lyric ran on to state, that, when the fugitive crosses the

Canada line,





"The Queen comes down unto the shore,

With arms extended wide,

To welcome the poor fugitive

Safe onto Freedom's side."





In the truth thus set forth she seemed to have the most simple

faith.



But her chief delight was to talk of "glory," and to sing hymns

whose burden was,--





"O glory, glory, glory,

Won't you come along with me?"



and when left to herself, she would often hum these with great

delight, nodding her head.



On one occasion, I remember her sitting at a window singing and

fervently keeping time with her head, the little black Puck of a

grandson meanwhile amusing himself with ornamenting her red-and-

yellow turban with green dandelion-curls, which shook and trembled

with her emotions, causing him perfect convulsions of delight.



"Sojourner," said the Professor to her, one day, when he heard her

singing, "you seem to be very sure about heaven."



"Well, I be," she answered, triumphantly.



"What makes you so sure there is any heaven?"



"Well, 'cause I got such a hankerin' arter it in here," she said,--

giving a thump on her breast with her usual energy.



There was at the time an invalid in the house, and Sojourner, on

learning it, felt a mission to go and comfort her. It was curious

to see the tall, gaunt, dusky figure stalk up to the bed with such

an air of conscious authority, and take on herself the office of

consoler with such a mixture of authority and tenderness. She

talked as from above,--and at the same time, if a pillow needed

changing or any office to be rendered, she did it with a strength

and handiness that inspired trust. One felt as if the dark,

strange woman were quite able to take up the invalid in her bosom,

and bear her as a lamb, both physically and spiritually. There

was both power and sweetness in that great warm soul and that

vigorous frame.



At length, Sojourner, true to her name, departed. She had her

mission elsewhere. Where now she is I know not; but she left deep

memories behind her.



To these recollections of my own I will add one more anecdote,

related by Wendell Phillips.



Speaking of the power of Rachel to move and bear down a whole

audience by a few simple words, he said he never knew but one

other human being that had that power, and that other was

Sojourner Truth. He related a scene of which he was witness. It

was at a crowded public meeting in Faneuil Hall, where Frederick

Douglas was one of the chief speakers. Douglas had been

describing the wrongs of the black race, and as he proceeded, he

grew more and more excited, and finally ended by saying that they

had no hope of justice from the whites, no possible hope except in

their own right arms. It must come to blood; they must fight for

themselves, and redeem themselves, or it would never be done.



Sojourner was sitting, tall and dark, on the very front seat,

facing the platform; and in the hush of deep feeling, after

Douglas sat down, she spoke out in her deep, peculiar voice, heard

all over the house,--



"Frederick, IS GOD DEAD?"



The effect was perfectly electrical, and thrilled through the

whole house, changing as by a flash the whole feeling of the

audience. Not another word she said or needed to say; it was

enough.



It is with a sad feeling that one contemplates noble minds and

bodies, nobly and grandly formed human beings, that have come to

us cramped, scarred, maimed, out of the prison-house of bondage.

One longs to know what such beings might have become, if suffered

to unfold and expand under the kindly developing influences of

education.



It is the theory of some writers, that to the African is reserved,

in the later and palmier days of the earth, the full and

harmonious development of the religious element in man. The

African seems to seize on the tropical fervor and luxuriance of

Scripture imagery as something native; he appears to feel himself

to be of the same blood with those old burning, simple souls, the

patriarchs, prophets, and seers, whose impassioned words seem only

grafted as foreign plants on the cooler stock of the Occidental

mind.



I cannot but think that Sojourner with the same culture might have

spoken words as eloquent and undying as those of the African Saint

Augustine or Tertullian. How grand and queenly a woman she might

have been, with her wonderful physical vigor, her great heaving

sea of emotion, her power of spiritual conception, her quick

penetration, and her boundless energy! We might conceive an

African type of woman so largely made and moulded, so much fuller

in all the elements of life, physical and spiritual, that the dark

hue of the skin should seem only to add an appropriate charm,--as

Milton says of his Penseroso, whom he imagines





"Black, but such as in esteem

Prince Memnon's sister might beseem,

Or that starred Ethiop queen that strove

To set her beauty's praise above

The sea-nymph's."





But though Sojourner Truth has passed away from among us as a wave

of the sea, her memory still lives in one of the loftiest and most

original works of modern art, the Libyan Sibyl, by Mr. Story,

which attracted so much attention in the late World's Exhibition.

Some years ago, when visiting Rome, I related Sojourner's history

to Mr. Story at a breakfast at his house. Already had his mind

begun to turn to Egypt in search of a type of art which should

represent a larger and more vigorous development of nature than

the cold elegance of Greek lines. His glorious Cleopatra was then

in process of evolution, and his mind was working out the problem

of her broadly developed nature, of all that slumbering weight and

fulness of passion with which this statue seems charged, as a

heavy thunder-cloud is charged with electricity.



The history of Sojourner Truth worked in his mind and led him into

the deeper recesses of the African nature,--those unexplored

depths of being and feeling, mighty and dark as the gigantic

depths of tropical forests, mysterious as the hidden rivers and

mines of that burning continent whose life-history is yet to be.

A few days after, he told me that he had conceived the idea of a

statue which he should call the Libyan Sibyl. Two years

subsequently, I revisited Rome, and found the gorgeous Cleopatra

finished, a thing to marvel at, as the creation of a new style of

beauty, a new manner of art. Mr. Story requested me to come and

repeat to him the history of Sojourner Truth, saying that the

conception had never left him. I did so; and a day or two after,

he showed me the clay model of the Libyan Sibyl. I have never

seen the marble statue; but am told by those who have, that it was

by far the most impressive work of art at the Exhibition.



A notice of the two statues from the London "Athenaeum" must

supply a description which I cannot give.





"The Cleopatra and the Sibyl are seated, partly draped, with the

characteristic Egyptian gown, that gathers about the torso and

falls freely around the limbs; the first is covered to the bosom,

the second bare to the hips. Queenly Cleopatra rests back against

her chair in meditative ease, leaning her cheek against one hand,

whose elbow the rail of the seat sustains; the other is

outstretched upon her knee, nipping its forefinger upon the thumb

thoughtfully, as though some firm, wilful purpose filled her

brain, as it seems to set those luxurious features to a smile as

if the whole woman 'would.' Upon her head is the coif, bearing in

front the mystic uraeus, or twining basilisk of sovereignty, while

from its sides depend the wide Egyptian lappels, or wings, that

fall upon her shoulders. The Sibilla Libica has crossed her

knees,--an action universally held amongst the ancients as

indicative of reticence or secrecy, and of power to bind. A

secret-keeping looking dame she is, in the full-bloom proportions

of ripe womanhood, wherein choosing to place his figure the

sculptor has deftly gone between the disputed point whether these

women were blooming and wise in youth, or deeply furrowed with age

and burdened with the knowledge of centuries, as Virgil, Livy, and

Gellius say. Good artistic example might be quoted on both sides.

Her forward elbow is propped upon one knee; and to keep her

secrets close, for this Libyan woman is the closest of all the

Sibyls, she rests her shut mouth upon one closed palm, as if

holding the African mystery deep in the brooding brain that looks

out through mournful, warning eyes, seen under the wide shade of

the strange horned (ammonite) crest, that bears the mystery of the

Tetragrammaton upon its upturned front. Over her full bosom,

mother of myriads as she was, hangs the same symbol. Her face has

a Nubian cast, her hair wavy and plaited, as is meet."





We hope to see the day when copies both of the Cleopatra and the

Libyan Sibyl shall adorn the Capitol at Washington.





Next: RECONSTRUCTION




Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK