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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER VIII. MARIE ST. CLARE.
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CHAPTER VIII. MARIE ST. CLARE.
Marie St. Clare is the type of a class of women not peculiar to any latitude, nor any condition of society. She may be found in England or in America. In the northern free states we have many Marie St. Clares, more or less fully developed.

When found in a northern latitude, she is forever in trouble about her domestic relations. Her servants never do anything right. Strange to tell, they are not perfect, and she thinks it a very great shame. She is fully convinced that she ought to have every moral and Christian virtue in her kitchen for a little less than the ordinary wages; and when her cook leaves her, because she finds she can get better wages and less work in a neighboring family, she thinks it shockingly selfish, unprincipled conduct. She is of opinion that servants ought to be perfectly disinterested; that they ought to be willing to take up with the worst rooms in the house, with very moderate wages, and very indifferent food, when they can get much better elsewhere, purely for the sake of pleasing her. She likes to get hold of foreign servants, who have not yet learned our ways, who are used to working for low wages, and who will be satisfied with almost anything; but she is often heard to lament that they soon get spoiled, and want as many privileges as anybody else,—which is perfectly shocking. Marie often wishes that she could be a slave-holder, or could live somewhere where the lower class are kept down, and made to know their place. She is always hunting for cheap seamstresses, and will tell you, in an under-tone, that she has discovered a woman who will make linen shirts beautifully, stitch the collars and wristbands twice, all for thirty-seven cents, 34when many seamstresses get a dollar for it; says she does it because she’s poor, and has no friends; thinks you had better be careful in your conversation, and not let her know what prices are, or else she will get spoiled, and go to raising her price,—these sewing-women are so selfish. When Marie St. Clare has the misfortune to live in a free state, there is no end to her troubles. Her cook is always going off for better wages and more comfortable quarters; her chambermaid, strangely enough, won’t agree to be chambermaid and seamstress both for half wages, and so she deserts. Marie’s kitchen-cabinet, therefore, is always in a state of revolution; and she often declares, with affecting earnestness, that servants are the torment of her life. If her husband endeavor to remonstrate, or suggest another mode of treatment, he is a hard-hearted, unfeeling man; “he doesn’t love her, and she always knew he didn’t;” and so he is disposed of.

But, when Marie comes under a system of laws which gives her absolute control over her dependants,—which enables her to separate them, at her pleasure, from their dearest family connections, or to inflict upon them the most disgraceful and violent punishments, without even the restraint which seeing the execution might possibly produce,—then it is that the character arrives at full maturity. Human nature is no worse at the South than at the North; but law at the South distinctly provides for and protects the worst abuses to which that nature is liable.

It is often supposed that domestic servitude in slave states is a kind of paradise; that house-servants are invariably pets; that young mistresses are always fond of their “mammies,” and young masters always handsome, good-natured and indulgent.

Let any one in Old England or New England look about among their immediate acquaintances, and ask how many there are who would use absolute despotic power amiably in a family, especially over a class degraded by servitude, ignorant, indolent, deceitful, provoking, as slaves almost necessarily are, and always must be.

Let them look into their own hearts, and ask themselves if they would dare to be trusted with such a power. Do they not find in themselves temptations to be unjust to those who are inferiors and dependants? Do they not find themselves tempted to be irritable and provoked, when the service of their families is negligently performed? And, if they had the power to inflict cruel punishments, or to have them inflicted by sending the servant out to some place of correction, would they not be tempted to use that liberty?

With regard to those degrading punishments to which females are subjected, by being sent to professional whippers, or by having such functionaries sent for to the house,—as John Caphart testifies that he has often been, in Baltimore,—what can be said of their influence both on the superior and on the inferior class? It is very painful indeed to contemplate this subject. The mind instinctively shrinks from it; but still it is a very serious question whether it be not our duty to encounter this pain, that our sympathies may be quickened into more active exercise. For this reason, we give here the testimony of a gentleman whose accuracy will not be doubted, and who subjected himse............
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