An Outcry for Change: The Plea for the Abolition of Slave Trade in England
In 1788, England ran slave-trades for commercial gain. The slaves were treated horrifically, many ripped from their homes and families and after this were traded from abusive owner to abusive owner. This tragic mistreatment of human beings inspired many authors to write pieces advocating for the rights of the men and women who were suffering, imploring England to end its slave trade. These authors include Ann Yearsley, Hannah More, and Eaglesfied Smith. These authors wrote pieces that tell entirely different stories and yet they use the same thematic and stylistic elements to implore to the masses to abolish slavery. Ann Yearsley’s “A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade” along with Hannah More and Eaglesfield Smith’s “The Sorrows of Yamba” appeal to human emotion and religious beliefs to advocate the abolishment of slave trade in England.
It is crucial to remember “the economic benefits which rendered [slave trade] so attractive in the face of its atrocities” (Phillips, pg. 30). For this reason, authors advocating for the rights of slaves had to use a tactic that would inspire incredibly strong feelings that could implore even the strongest advocate of the economic gain slave trade gave England. To do this, both Yearsley, More, and Smith wrote gut wrenching stories of the average life of a person trapped in the slave trade. These stories evoke extremely strong emotions that both enrage and break hearts of readers so that they may choose to join the fight that will end slavery. Yearsley’s poem tells the story of Luco, a young man who is stolen from Africa and taken from his family and his beloved Incilanda. Incilanda “pines/In anguish deep, and sullen…she seeks the cold embrace of death; her soul/Escapes in one sad sigh” (Yearsley, pg. 253, lines 197-8;201-2). Luco’s capture destroys his beloved to her very core and gives her pain that she can only soothe with death. This tale fills readers’ hearts with anguish and anger and shows them the tragedy of what the slave trade does and how much it affects not only the people who are trapped directly in it, but those who are left behind. More and Smith’s poem shows the life of someone who has been captured and forced to become a slave from a first person point of view. The unnamed woman tells readers “I, in groaning passed the night,/And did roll my aching head;/At the break of morning light,/My poor Child was cold and dead” (More and Smith, pg.264, lines 45-8). This woman loses her baby in the middle of a cold, painful night and is later forced to throw her lifeless body over the edge of the ship where they were both being held. There are no words to describe this treatment. Both of these stories show exactly what the slave trade does to the people forced into it and there is no doubt of the emotion that this evokes. With these emotions, Yearsley, More, and Smith are inspiring every person in England to help with the abolishment of the slave trade.
Appealing to the emotions of the people of England was not enough for these authors. They wanted to be sure that there could be no mistake of the atrocity of the slave trade. In order to ensure this, Yearsley, More, and Smith used Christianity to appeal to the masses. Yearsley continues Luco’s story and shows how he comes face to face with a slave owner, Gorgon. Gorgon, the “remorseless Christian” sees Luco standing with many other slaves and strikes him on the face with a heavy whip leaving a permanent mark on Luco’s face. Luco strikes “the rude Christian in the forehead. Pride,/With hateful malice, seize[d] on Gorgon’s soul” (Yearsley, 254, 253;259-60). Gorgon later burns Luco alive in front of other people described as Christians. “Clearly, the slave owner comes across as nothing less than a monster…he is a child of Britian and Christian training…it is he who is twisted and barbaric” (Phillips, 191-2). Painting Christians in this light puts emphasis on the un-christian like nature of the actions being taken against the slaves. Doing this makes it incredibly apparent that to participate or support the slave trade goes against the very foundation of Christianity. More and Smith take a different approach with Christianity. After the death of her child and the constant abuse the woman suffers she reveals “death itself I longed to taste,/Long’d to cast me in and Die./There I met upon the Strand/English Missionary Good;/He had Bible book in hand” and she later goes on to read the Bible and finds salvation in it. This salvation saves her from the suicide for which she once longed; showing that Christianity is meant to be the savior of those who have no hope, spread by people who love and value the lives of all as the missionary man did for the woman. Showing Christianity as a salvation for a slave trade victim makes it seem all the more abhorrent that a person who claims to be Christian can inflict such pain and suffering. Using religion in this form makes it evident that Christianity and slave trade do not go hand in hand. With this point, authors are showing that to be a good Christian one cannot be an advocate for continuing the slave trade.
Yearsley, More, and Smith weave completely different tales and yet both make it evident that the only choice is to abolish the slave trade. The tragic tales of Luco and Incilanda and the unnamed woman spark incredible emotion in every person that reads their story. In addition to this, Christianity is used to show not only that the gruesome treatment of slaves is goes against the very foundation of the religion but also that it can serve as a salvation for those victimized. It is clear that they helped to inspire change as “the slave trade ended due to pressure exerted in connection with morality and evangelism” (Phillips, 4). Evoking human emotion sparks the morality necessary for the change while evangelism was employed through their use of religion. These authors fought for the rights of human kind and helped to create a change that would change the course of England’s history forever.
Damrosch, David, and Dettmar Kevin, eds. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Romantics and Their Contemporaries. 5th ed. Vol. 2A. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 252-256; 263-267. Print.
Picture Courtesy of:
Page, Sam. “The Story Of Wales And Slavery At The National Waterfront Museum Swansea.” Culture 24. Arts Council of England, 1 May 2007. Web. 7 Nov. 2014. .
Phillips, Elizabeth Diane. “Fair To Middling: Slavery And Status In The Poetry Of Romantic Women Writers.” Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities And Social Sciences 69.6 (2008): 2282-2283. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.