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Race and the Disenfranchised in 1790S Britain

  • A. A. Markley
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Abstract

In the second volume of her dialogues for children, Rambles Farther (1796), Charlotte Smith addresses the subjects of race and slavery in a dialogue entitled “The Little West Indian.” In this work the main characters, Mrs. Woodfield, her children, and her niece Caroline, are joined by Ella Sedley, a child from the West Indies who is sent to England along with her African nurse, Mimbah, when she loses her mother. Mimbah’s homesickness inspires a discussion of the strong habit that attaches even slaves to their home. “Happiness depends, after all,” Mrs. Woodfield says, “less on local circumstances than on the habits of our minds.”1 Mrs. Woodfield takes advantage of the opportunity to teach the children about slavery, explaining that those who are brought up in the West Indies do not recognize slaves as fellow human beings (XII:119). When Caroline asks how slavery can be justified, Mrs. Woodfield presents contemporary arguments for the institution and points out the fallacy behind each one. The argument that slavery is justifiable due to its long custom is one, she explains, that could support any abuse. Mrs. Woodfield also argues that the claims that slavery is an economic necessity and that slaves are happier than they would be in their native environment are equally fallacious.

Keywords

Racial Difference Eighteenth Century Slave Trade Late Eighteenth Century Racial Prejudice 
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Notes

  1. 3.
    Radical Sensibility: Literature and Ideas in the 1790 (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 2. G. J. Barker-Benfield discusses the link between sensibility and the antislavery movement, as well as the work of such figures as prison reformist John Howard, in The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britai (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 224–25. See also Markman Ellis, The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Nove (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 49–128, and Brycchan Carey, British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment, and Slavery, 1760–180 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 46–72. Carey traces abolitionist discourse in sentimental novels written earlier in the eighteenth century, including Sarah Scott’s The History of Sir George Ellison (1766, Henry Mackenzie’s Julia de Roubign (1777), and Thomas Day’s The History of Sandford and Merto (1783–89). Finally, Moira Ferguson analyzes the relationship between the abolitionist and feminist movements in Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670–183 (New York and London: Routledge, 1992).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Angelo Costanzo provides an overview of this movement in his introduction to The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equian (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2001, 2004), 21–26. See also Wylie Sypher, Guines Captive Kings: British Anti-Slavery Literature of the XVIIIth Centur (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1942; repr. New York: Octagon Books, 1969), 1–24; and Ellis, The Politics of Sensibilit, 49–55.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See Costanzo, introduction to The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equian, 21; and Debbie Lee, Slavery and the Romantic Imaginatio (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 11.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See Anne K. Mellor, “‘Am I Not a Woman, and a Sister?’: Slavery, Romanticism, and Gender,” in Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture: 1780–183, ed. Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 311–12.Google Scholar
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    See Alan Richardson, “Slavery and Romantic Writing,” in A Companion to Romanticis, ed. Duncan Wu (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 463.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    See The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Cultur (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 287. To support her claim, Wheeler cites significant changes in the definition of the word “race” found in the 1771, 1781, and 1797 editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica See also the work of Felicity Nussbaum, especially “Women and Race: ‘A Difference of Complexion,”’ in Women and Literature in Britain, 1700–180, ed. Vivien Jones (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 69–88, and The Limits of the Human: Fictions of Anomaly, Race, and Gender in the Long Eighteenth Centur (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 1–20. For a thorough analysis of the geohumoral foundations of British attitudes about race, particularly during the English Renaissance, see Mary Floyd-Wilson, English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Dram (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Other examples include William Blake’s “The Little Black Boy” (1789), Robert Burns’s “The Slave’s Lament” (1792), William Lisle Bowles’s “The African” (1794), and Robert Southey’s “The Sailor Who Had Served in the Slave-Trade” (1798).Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    See Stephen F. Wolfe, “‘The Bloody Writing is for ever torn’: Inscribing Slavery in the 1790s,” in Revolutions and Watersheds: Transatlantic Dialogues 1775–181, ed. W. M. Verhoeven and Beth Dolan Kautz (Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1999), 169; and Lee, Slavery and the Romantic Imaginatio, 14–15. In Bury the Chain, Hochschild analyzes Clarkson’s work at length, as well as other abolitionists such as Granville Sharp, William Wilberforce, and John Newton.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    See John Bugg, “The Other Interesting Narrative: Olaudah Equiano’s Public Book Tour,” PML 121, no. 5 (October 2006): 1424–42.Google Scholar
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    Moira Ferguson discusses the influence of the Falconbridges’ work in Subject to Other, 198–208.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Earle’s narrative was drawn from Benjamin Moseley’s brief synopsis of Mansong’s life in his 1799 A Treatise on Sugar For more information on Ob and the other works it inspired in 1800 and afterward, see Charles Rzepka’s introduction to Obi: A Romantic Circles Praxis Volum, ed. Charles Rzepka, August 2002, http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/obi.
  12. 19.
    J. M. S. Tompkins compares the noble savage motif in this novel to Inchbald’s Nature and Ar and Bage’s Hermspron in The Popular Novel in England 1770–180 (London: Constable and Co., 1932; repr., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961), 311–12.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    For M. O. Grenby’s classification of Slavery: or, The Time as an anti-Jacobin work due to Mackenzie’s treatment of contemporary France, see The Anti-Jacobin Novel: British Conservatism and the French Revolutio (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 221n36.Google Scholar
  14. 29.
    While discussions of race in St Leon are rare, Stephen F. Wolfe addresses Godwin’s oblique treatment of slavery and contemporary abolitionist concerns in Caleb William in his reference to Falkland’s West Indian estate and its management by Caleb’s friend Mr. Collins. See “‘The Bloody Writing is for ever torn’: Inscribing Slavery in the 1790s,” in Revolutions and Watersheds: Transatlantic Dialogues 1775–181, ed. W. M. Verhoeven and Beth Dolan Kautz (Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1999), 177–79, and “‘Are Such Things Done on Albion’s Shore?’ The Discourses of Slavery in the Rhetoric of English Jacobin Writers,” Nordli 6 (1999): 169.Google Scholar
  15. 33.
    See Edward Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770–182 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 167. Historians have recorded as many as 128 such gradations to describe individuals of mixed race. See Charles Wagley and Marvin Harris, Minorities in the New Worl (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), 106–7, and Marvin Harris, Patterns of Race in the America (New York: Walker, 1964), 54–62; both cited by Brathwaite, Development of Creole Society in jamaica 1770— 1820, 167n Google Scholar
  16. 40.
    For discussions of Smith’s treatment of slavery in this novel see Carrol Fry, Charlotte Smit (New York: Twayne, 1996), 96–100; and M. O. Grenby, introduction to The Banished Man and The Wanderings of Warwick, The Works of Charlotte Smit, VII:xiii–xvi. Grenby points out that Smith’s treatment of life in the West Indies was greatly influenced by her friend Bryan Edwards, who published The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indie in 1793.Google Scholar
  17. 41.
    The Letters of a Solitary Wandere, ed. David Lorne Macdonald, The Works of Charlotte Smit, XI:119.Google Scholar
  18. 42.
    Mitzi Myers also cites the influence of Thomas Day’s bad Creole boy Tommy Merton of The History of Sandford and Merto (1783–89) on Mr. Vincent in “My Art belongs to Daddy? Thomas Day, Maria Edgeworth and the Pre-texts of Belinda Women Writers and Patriarchal Authority,” in Revising Women: Eighteenth-Century ‘Womes Fictioand Social Engagemen, ed. Paula Backscheider (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 105.Google Scholar
  19. 43.
    Jessica Richard discusses the significance of Mr. Vincent’s penchant for gambling as a defect of his character in “‘Games of Chance’: Belind, Education and Empire,” in An Uncomfortable Authority: Maria Edgeworth and Her Context, ed. Heidi Kaufman and Chris Fauske (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004), 192–211.Google Scholar
  20. 44.
    ‘Abroad and at Home’: Sexual Ambiguity, Miscegenation, and Colonial Boundaries in Edgeworth’s Belind,” PML 112, no. 2 (March 1997): 222. Greenfield argues that Edgeworth intends her readers to associate aspects of Mr. Vincent’s personality with stereotypical characteristics of Africans to indicate his unsuitability as a suitor to an English woman. See also Greenfield, Mothering Daughter, 116–23. For another discussion of Mr. Vincent and race, see Perera, Reaches of Empire: The English Novel from Edgeworth to Dicken (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 21–26. In changes she made to Belind for a new edition in 1810, Edgeworth responded to criticism by dramatically altering Belinda’s expressions of interest in Mr. Vincent and by removing her promise to marry him. See Marilyn Butler, Maria Edgeworth: A Literar Google Scholar
  21. Biograph (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), 494–95; Perera, Reaches of Empir, 15–34; and Kathryn Kirkpatrick’s analysis of Edgeworth’s excisions and alterations in “‘Gentlemen Have Horrors Upon This Subject’: West Indian Suitors in Maria Edgeworth’s Belind,” Eighteenth-Century Fictio 5, no. 4 (July 1993): 331–48. Finally, Alison Harvey offers a particularly provocative reading of the intersections of colonialism, gender, and race in the novel in “West Indian Obeah and English ‘Obee’: Race, Femininity, and Questions of Colonial Consolidation in Maria Edgeworth’s Belind,” in New Essays on Maria Edgewort, ed. Julie Nash (Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2006), 1–29.Google Scholar
  22. 45.
    Kathryn Kirkpatrick contrasts Lady Delacour’s role in the novel with that of the initially more idealized Lady Anne Percival, arguing that the Percivals’ connection to Mr. Vincent and the imputed association of their having gained their wealth in the West Indies call into question Lady Anne’s suitability as a role model for Belinda. See “The Limits of Liberal Feminism in Maria Edgeworth’s Belind,” in Jane Austen and Mary Shelley and Their Sister, ed. Laura Dabundo (Landham, MD: University Press of America, 2000), 73–82.Google Scholar
  23. 46.
    “Abroad and at Home,” 220. Here Greenfield also points out the symbolic significance of Mr. Vincent’s later attempt to shoot himself in the head, like the speaker in Day’s poem, when he realizes that he has lost Belinda. Perera calls the reference to Day’s poem “one of a series of thwarted pairings between European and colonial alien” in the novel (Reaches of Empir, 31). See also Frances R. Botkin, “Questioning the ‘Necessary Order of Things’: Maria Edgeworth’s ‘The Grateful Negro,’ Plantation Slavery, and the Abolition of the Slave Trade,” in Discourses of Slavery and Abolition: Britain and its Colonies, 1760–183, ed. Brycchan Carey, Markman Ellis, and Sara Salih (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 197–98. For an analysis of the theoretical implications of Edgeworth’s treatment of Africans and slavery in Belind see Andrew McCann, “Conjugal Love and the Enlightenment Subject: The Colonial Context of Non-Identity in Maria Edgeworth’s Belind,” Nove 30, no. 1 (Fall 1996): 56–77, reprinted in Cultural Politics in the 1790s: Literature, Radicalism and the Public Spher (Basingstoke: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 181–206.Google Scholar
  24. 47.
    See Greenfield’s discussion of Juba’s role in Belind in “Abroad and at Home,” 220–24. For Greenfield, Juba’s presence in the novel strengthens Mr. Vincent’s association with Africans.Google Scholar
  25. 49.
    See Butler, Maria Edgewort, 494–95, and Perera, Reaches of Empir, 15–34. Kathryn Kirkpatrick compares the two editions and assesses Edgeworth’s changes in “‘Gentlemen Have Horrors Upon This Subject,’” 331–48.Google Scholar
  26. 51.
    Michael Scrivener has pointed out that the pseudonym alludes to the lecture hall where Thelwall often lectured to enormous audiences at No. 2 Beaufort Buildings, Strand (Seditious Allegories: John Thelwall and Jacobin Writin [University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2001 ], 240). See also Gregory Claeys, ed., The Politics of English Jacobinism: Writings ofJohn Thelwal (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1995), xx, xxxiv.Google Scholar
  27. 56.
    See Scrivener, Seditious Allegorie, 241–42. Scrivener suggests that Parkinson may be named for physician, writer, and London Corresponding Society member James Parkinson (1755–1824).Google Scholar
  28. 58.
    Table Tal (entry dated 24 July 1830), ed. Carl Woodring, The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridg, gen. ed. Kathleen Coburn and Bart Winer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), XIV, part 1, 180–81 and 180n6. Among those who have noted this parallel are Peter Kitson, “Coleridge’s Anecdote of John Thelwall,” Notes and Querie ns 32, no. 3 (September 1985): 345; E. P. Thompson, “Hunting the Jacobin Fox,” 108 n58; and Scrivener, Seditious Allegorie, 242.Google Scholar
  29. 65.
    See Neville Hoad, “Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington The Price of Sympathetic Representation,” in British Romanticism and the Jews: History, Culture, Literatur, ed. Sheila A. Spector (Basingstoke and New York:Google Scholar
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    Sheila A. Spector, “The Other’s Other: The Function of the Jew in Maria Edgeworth’s Fiction,” European Romantic Revie 10, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 333.Google Scholar
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  33. 80.
    Rachel Mordecai, Letter to Maria Edgeworth, 7 August 1815, published in Harringto, ed. Susan Manly (Peterborough. Ont.: Broadview Press, 2004), 298.Google Scholar
  34. 82.
    For critical analyses of Harringto, see Edgar Rosenberg’s treatment of the novel alongside Cumberland’s The Je in From Shylock to Svengal, 60–70, and Neville Hoad, “Maria Edgeworth’s Harringto,” 121–38. Michael Ragussis provides an insightful psychoanalytic analysis of the novel and calls it “the first work in English to inquire into the nature of the representation of Jewish identity” (113; 57) in “Representation, Conversion, and Literary Form: Harringto and the Novel of Jewish Identity,” Critical Inquir 16, no. 1 (Autumn 1989): 113–43, and Figures of ConversionThe Jewish Questio& English National Identit (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), 57–88. For the particular influence of philosopher Moses Mendelssohn on Harringto, see Susan Manly, “Harringto and Anti-Semitism: Mendelssohn’s Invisible Agency,” in An Uncomfortable Authority: Maria Edgeworth and Her Context, ed. Heidi Kaufman and Chris Fauske (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004), 235–49. Related studies also include Silvia Mergenthal, “The Shadow of Shylock: Scott’s Ivanho and Edgeworth’s Harringto,” in Scott in Carniva, ed. J. H. Alexander and David Hewitt (Aberdeen: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1993), 320–31, and John Plotz, The Crowd: British Literature and Public Politic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 43–75.Google Scholar
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  36. 86.
    Marcus Wood analyzes other political works in which Thelwall focuses on the plight of English labourers and African slaves in “William Cobbett, John Thelwall, Radicalism, Racism and Slavery: A Study in Burkean Parodics,” Romanticism On the Ne 15 (August 1999), http://users.ox.ac.uk/~scat0385/thelwall.html .

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