Adopt an Author |
|The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University
by Michael Brown, May 2006
Abolitionism was a major concern of the fiction of the 1780-1800 period, this concern was underpinned by the religious and moral sensibilities of the time.
The period of 1780 to 1800 saw the debate about slavery intensify. Motions in Parliament coupled with a wide variety of literature saw to it that the debate was brought to the public attention like never before. Poetry, novels and non fiction texts were all used as forums to discuss the issue. Underpinning the debate in many cases was a religious morality which was used as justification and support for the abolitionist argument.
The fact that abolitionism was a moral argument as well as the fact that it was publicly discussed through literary forms meant that it was often women who were the main exponents of the abolitionist feeling. During the eighteenth century women were considered to be responsible for the moral stability and conscience of the country, while the men went out to work it was the women who remained at home to ensure the children were given a moral upbringing and the household remained decent. It was also thought that women had a finer sense of moral issues. This made them perfect vessels for the abolitionist cause.
Women created works to further the abolitionist cause, but they were also targets for the advertising and abolitionist literature,
The Negro mother’s Petition to the Ladies of Bristol… was in the form of an appeal from a black woman to the women of Bristol, imploring them to ‘tink on’ suffering slaves, to tell their husbands fathers and brothers about their plight1
it being thought that women’s moral influence over their men would be more persuasive than a direct appeal to the men themselves.
The belief in women’s strong moral sense meant that a moral argument delivered by a woman would be more convincing.
The creation of literature, in particular novel writing was believed to be a woman’s pastime. Anna MacKenzie pays
a feeble tribute of praise to those male writers, who have thought it no degradation of their dignity, as scholars or gentlemen, to relax from their severer studies, and improve and amuse in the form of a novel.2
The attitude was that the novel form was considered too frivolous for men.
The novel was also thought however to offer a moral
The… sentiment when put proceeding from the mouth of the hero[ine] of a novel, will act with greater force upon the youthful mind, than when it is perused merely as the work of the author.3
This belief that novels and indeed all literature could offer a moral lesson to its readers made it an ideal forum for discussion of slavery and abolition, and ideally suited to women in their roles as moral guardians of the family.
Throughout the late 1790s there was a great profusion of work that examined and condemned slavery, much of it written by women. Poets like Hannah More and Anna Laetitia Barbauld created works which offered a critique of slavery in addition to this there were works published by those who had actually experienced slavery such as The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African4 or The letters of Ignatius Sancho,5 and fictional novels such as those of Anna M Mackenzie, all of which criticised slavery as an inhuman and unchristian act.
Abolitionist tales and verse.., demonstrate that women found a way to voice social and political criticism through acceptable ‘feminine’ means of poetic sentiment and appeals to the emotions.6
The methods they employed to offer this critique were subtly different but all equally persuasive to the reader. Women were able to maintain their femininity by creating work that fell within the acceptable public sphere and at the same time got across the serious political points they were attempting to make. Men were able to take a more direct approach as they did not have the same veneer of respectability to maintain.
Olaudah Equiano was able to publish his autobiography which was an account of his birth, capture and subsequent enslavement,
a strongly abolitionist autobiography. The book became a bestseller and, as well as furthering the anti-slavery cause, made Equiano a wealthy man7
His graphic account of his own experiences was difficult for readers to ignore, coming as it did from a man who had successfully managed to prosper within English society despite his humble beginnings.
In the same way Ignatius Sancho was able to draw on his own experiences in order to make his argument more persuasive, simply recounting his experiences and allowing them to speak to the reader, offering them comparisons between their lives and the lives of the slaves.
When Tom, an' please your honour, got to the shop, there was nobody in it, but a poor negro girl, with a bunch of white feathers slightly tied to the end of a long cane, flapping away flies - not killing them. - 'Tis a pretty picture! said my uncle Toby - she had suffered persecution, Trim, and had learnt mercy8
Sancho’s arguments against slavery were not long philosophical discussions but simply recounts of his experiences. Their simplicity is what gave them weight.
In my opinion the best writing about such a group is most likely to come from within that group.9
The effectiveness of Sancho’s argument lies in the same unique position enjoyed by Equiano. Sancho having been born into slavery, managed to achieve a decent standard of education, so that his letters are published and read by prominent members of society. Sancho is able to offer the views of the slaves directly to the reader, virtually in their own words. His level of education made it that he could give a voice to the slaves in a way that other authors standing outside the problem could not, offering a unique level of experience and authenticity not readily available to those who do not have first hand experience.
Sancho’s letters might have served as part of the inspiration for Anna MacKenzie’s Slavery: or the Times (1792). The fact that she chose to use the epistolic format and an African protagonist would suggest that in some ways she was influenced by and possibly hoping to emulate Ignatius Sancho.
There are subtle differences in her narrative perspective however. Firstly Ignatius Sancho was born A.D. 1729, on board a ship in the Slave-trade, a few days after it had quitted the coast of Guinea10
MacKenzie’s character, Adolphus, is an African prince sent to Europe with his tutor to finish his education. By making Adolphus royalty it allows MacKenzie to explore a wider social structure than if he had been a slave.
The other major difference between the work of Ignatius Sancho and Anna MacKenzie is the background of the author, as previously discussed Sancho is writing within the context of his own experiences, where as MacKenzie is writing work which is removed from her own field of experiences and possibly draws on the work of Sancho as a source. The fictive nature Slavery or the Times could mean that it was dismissed, were it to stand alone as an abolitionist work. However it was part of a great body of work, much of it by women which attempted to use fiction to highlight the plight of slaves.
“Dear massa, poor sambo tank you- but Omra stay me stay too. Work all day, - fare hard- all for poor Omra- Me go, who comfort her? She cry, man laugh- She sick, tired, labor all day, no one pity. – She call Sambo, –Sambo gone.- sink down- Die!” 11
This inarticulate slave narrative parallels other works which share the themes of slavery and the separation of families, Aphre Behn’s Oroonoko
the heart rending tale of young lovers torn apart by slavery12
and The sorrows of Yamba.
Driven like cattle to a fair,
See they sell us young and old;
Child from mother too they tear,
All for the love of filthy gold. 13
In each case it seems to be the separation of families which seems to
be the cause of outrage for the author. The family unit being considered important to the construction of society and the major concern of women, it is easy to see why this should be a cause of such outrage for women authors.
In Anna MacKenzie’s work we are shown several family units which are placed under threat by the risk of slavery, Adolphus family is threatened.
My son [Adolphus] would be a prize worth their notice14
Indeed towards the end of the novel his father Zazima is taken as a slave. Adolphus distress at this reinforces the effect that slavery had, destroying the family unit.
Adolphus’s sorrows will now be full- I feel for him with additional pity, and can only hope this mournful catastrophe, may for a length of time, be kept from his knowledge. 15
The family unit was a cross cultural thing which could be identified as easily in the society of London as it could amongst the slaves of the West Indies. Therefore by focusing on it an author could allow their readers to apply their own experiences to what they were reading and develop a deeper understanding.
Hannah More chooses the figure of a mother for the protagonist in The sorrows of Yamba, a mother who loses a child during the progress of the poem, thereby showing that slavery was a direct threat to the family unit.
My poor child was cold and dead16
However it can be argued that More’s choice of a mother figure who continued to perform her motherly duties lessens the impact of the poem as a social critique.
The Sorrows of Yamba, which tackles the issue of slavery. Clearly, she [Hannah More] was not trying to avoid social issues, but her address of them was more universal, and not as threatening as a direct critique. Her main character was a mother, who throughout the poem maintained her motherly duties to her family and her country in wishing for their freedom…The conventional role of mother is portrayed through Yamba in this poem17
Whilst Hannah More is offering a direct challenge to the way that society perceives slaves, showing them as caring and human, she is not challenging the way society is ordered in terms of the family unit, rather, the Romantic Audience Project that she is reinforcing traditional gender roles. She shows us that the slave trade itself provides the greatest challenges to the family unit without the need for traditional roles to be challenged.
The discussion of slavery within the context of the family unit also allowed religion to be used to support the abolitionist argument.
In order for Christianity to underpin the abolitionist argument it became necessary for the characters within the literature to convert to Christianity, making the parallels between the Christian morality and the anti-slavery debate easier for the audience to draw. Consequently Yamba converts to Christianity
There I met upon the strand
English missionary good….
Freely he his mercy proffered
And to sinners he was sent….
Wicked deed full many a time
Sinful Yamba hath done…
Now I’ll bless my cruel capture
(Hence I’ve known a saviour’s name),
Till my grief s turned to rapture
And I half forget the blame. 18
Her conversion to Christianity allows her to forgive her captors. The
forgiveness of her captors is of extreme importance, for if the slaves could forgive their persecutors then they were shown to be above those who were enslaving them.
The importance of the slaves to show mercy to their masters is not only demonstrated by its inclusion not simply in the works of fiction but also in the more factual works. Ingnatius Sancho says of his character
she had suffered persecution, Trim, and had learnt mercy.19
The inclusion of this in a non-fiction account suggests that it was either common practice for the slaves to forgive their masters, or that it was a device included within the work to ensure a sympathetic readership. Whilst there is no definite evidence either way, given the Christianised atmosphere in which the works were being published it would seem more logical that it was a device included to provoke sympathy in the readers.
Some works actually raised the question of the slaves own religious backgrounds and whether or not Christians should show mercy towards them. Adolphus asks about this in Slavery or the Times, questioning whether or not Christ would show mercy to the non Christian slaves and therefore, by implication, whether Christians should show the same kind of mercy.
“Omra kisses her infant but she cannot restore it to life….Pray do you think your God will take it? You know poor Omra is not a Christian. She has never heard of Christianity, except in the name of those who forced her from her home.” 20
Within these questions from Adolphus MacKenzie is able to raise the question of whether or not a Christian God will show compassion to non-Christians. She is also cleverly able to juxtapose the mercy of Christian teachings along side the associations that the word Christian would have for the slaves “those who forced her from her home”, in doing so the author is inviting the reader to make comparisons between the two approaches and to ask which is the correct one, for Christianity to be associated with mercy and goodness or with forcing people from their homes.
The question of whether or not the Christian God will accept the child of a non Christian slave is answered in the novel in the affirmative and is offered to the grieving mother as a comfort.
“The child should not answer for the mother’s ignorance. Oh! What a good God is yours….. Omra, do not lament,… your little one will go to the Christian’s God.” 21
The slave’s non belief in Christianity is simply described as “ignorance”, therefore, by implication, with more education the slaves would convert to Christianity, as Yamba does, thereby placing themselves above their captors, having learned the Christian ideals of forgiveness.
It would be extremely important for the authors writing about slavery, to show their characters as above their captors, and to have them exhibit Christian ideals, for by doing so it made them seem more human and allowed the readers to identify more closely with the persecuted characters than with those characters who are perhaps nearer to the readers own ethnicity and background. This would be particularly important within abolitionist novels as they would be read by the gentry who would be more akin in class and social standing to the slave owners than the slaves themselves. Therefore the need to make the slave owners seem inhuman and barbarous would be greater in order to ensure their sympathies for the cause.
It was also important to show those characters as being as close to westerners in their thoughts and feelings as possible in order that they could be closely identified with by the readership.
Anna MacKenzie also has her main character convert to Christianity. This allows him to draw comparisons between the barbarism he sees in his own country and the civilisation of Europe. Indeed it leads him to question how such a progressive society as Western European society can participate in the slave trade.
“I thought, (said he haughtily,) “England was a land of freedom, and that you made no slaves here.” 22
Adolphus’ intellectual superiority to the slave owners is further marked out in Slavery or the Times when he is taken to a plantation and is able to witness a discussion about the best way to treat slaves.
“Your slaves are spoiled with too much liberty. They would be worth a great deal more if they had less indulgence and were kept longer to their work”
“…yet you grudge these poor people the scanty hour of rest to refresh those limbs enfeebled with the excessive heat….”23
While Adolphus does not participate in the debate the reader is left in no doubt as to his feelings.
Then it was that my feeling grew too powerful for constraint. 24
His distress at the thought of the slaves being made to work long hours in the hot sun is clear. Adolphus is placed at intellectual odds with the view point expressed by the plantation owner and we as readers are, by virtue of the narrative structure, asked to align our view points, both on the intellectual and on the emotional level, with that of Adolphus. The reader is therefore asked to condemn the inhumanities of slavery and indeed we are shown that with compassionate treatment there is an alternative to it.
“we fight too, but we fight for massa, he so good- so –so- so very good. – We defend him house, him plantation, him life, him everything.” 25
The novel suggests that if the slaves are offered fair and kind
treatment the slaves will not only work willingly but they would actively defend their masters in times of trouble. This is offered in opposition to the slave owners who mistreat their slaves.
“They be much much beat. – Then they rise, kill, fight, burn plantation.” 26
MacKenzie’s novel condemns slavery as a whole but it seems to be this severe form of slavery where the slaves are beaten and mistreated which is offered the strongest form of condemnation.
The question of European and particularly English involvement in slavery was a central issue for the debate, both in literary works like Slavery or the Times, and in other areas of society. Whilst most British people were not directly involved in the slave trade there were fears that the ordinary British person condoned the trade by using the products it produced, coffee for example.
If the government would not take action … then people must bring about the end of the slave trade themselves by putting economic pressure on planters27
There were calls amongst abolitionists to boycott the produce of the slave trade in the hope that it would indicate the displeasure of the people to the slave traders.
People were asked to
Boycott sugar and rum as one element of a popular campaign against the slave trade. 28
Ordinary people and especially women were able to exert political control through the medium of consumerism; simply by refusing to buy they were able to express their displeasure at the methods of production.
The treatment of the slaves seems to have been the main objection of most of the abolitionist authors, not simply the destruction of the family units but also the harsh punishments given to unruly slaves in the form of lashings were often central scenes in anti-slavery propaganda.
I was sold to massa hard-
Some have massas kind and good;
And again my back was scarred,
Bad and stinted was my food. 29
When Zazima, Adolphus father is taken as a slave it is the humiliation of being whipped that he finds so hard to accept.
The pain, the disgrace was hinted at,-
“Disgrace! - Have I not been whipped?” 30
The maltreatment of the slaves by their masters was used as an emotive, persuasive force to convince the reader that slavery was wrong. With parallels having already been drawn between the slaves and the reader and the common humanity of both having been established, the reader was openly and implicitly invited to empathise with the slave and to question how they themselves would feel in such a situation.
The use of the whip as an implement of punishment also furthered the religious parallels being made by the authors. Christ was whipped by the Romans and forgave his captors
Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing. 31
The slaves are shown to do the same
Now I’ll bless my cruel capture…
Till my grief is turned to rapture
And I half forget the blame. 32
By equating the slaves with Christ, it was possible for the author to condemn slavery as being against the Christian doctrine and an act of blasphemy on part of the enslavers, and for the slaves themselves to manifest a religious importance that elevated the status off the debate beyond that of simple questions of economics and fair trade.
The rise in awareness of the issues surrounding slavery and freedom, lead to questions being asked about other forms of inhibition in other areas of society. Adolphus makes the parallel between slavery and press ganging in Slavery or the Times demonstrating to the reader the comparable loss of liberty in both cases.
“Slaves young gentleman, (answered the lieutenant, sheathing his cutlass, and looking as if he were ashamed of the business,) no, no; these men are going to fight for their king and country.”
“But they do not like to go sir; they wish to visit their families…
“That reason will not man our fleet my pretty lad” 33
The same argument that is made against slavery is made against
Press ganging. It disrupts the family unit by preventing the sailors from being reunited with their families.
In Slavery or the Times we are shown another example of whipping, and thereby invited to draw parallels with both slavery and religion. The whipping of a young steward who has offended Adolphus is used both as an example of military discipline, which we as readers are asked to parallel with the discipline of the plantations, but also as a lesson in mercy and compassion for the young Adolphus.
“Strike” commanded the captain. The Botswain advanced with the tremendous cat, which forcibly imprinted its marks upon the young Anthony’s naked back…. Adolphus grew frantic… “stop that merciless fellow.” 34
By having Adolphus plead for mercy for Anthony MacKenzie
is challenging the cultural stereotype of the coloured man as a savage, she goes to great pains to establish Adolphus as a caring and sensitive character, more easily identified with by the reader than a more savage and stereotypical black man might have been.
The use of a “princely or europeanised hero” 35 aligns Slavery or the Times with Oroonoko and invited comparisons between the main characters. Adolphus is separated from his love within the story just as Oroonoko is divided from Imoinda, Zimza is taken as a slave and finds his captivity intolerable, even to the point where is ready to die rather than continue his mistreatment.
Prepare your tortures savages; but know, they shall only open the path of death to the once noble ZIMZA, king of Tonouwah. 36
Through the two characters of Adolphus and Zimza it is possible to see clear parallels with Oroonoko , in both cases the lovers are separated by the events of the narrative and the princely hero is prepared to die rather than remain a slave. In the case of Zimza however this does not happen as he is recognised and rescued by Adolphus.
Oroonoko was dismissed as fiction when it was first published despite the author’s claims to it being true.
I was myself an eye-witness to a great part of what you will find here set down; and what I could not be witness of, I received from the mouth of the chief actor in this history, the hero himself, who gave us the whole transactions of his youth37
Later it was accepted as an important anti-slavery novel, while never actually accepted as truth there were undoubted moments of realism within the novel in the accounts of the treatment of the slaves.
Oroonoko served as inspiration for many of the abolitionist texts which were created. Hannah More cites Behn’s work as one of the inspirations for her poem Slavery A poem
O, plaintive Southerne! * whose impassion'd strain
So oft has wak'd my languid Muse in vain!
Now, when congenial themes her cares engage,
She burns to emulate thy glowing page;
* Author of the Tragedy of Oronoko 38
Whilst other authors simply chose to explore the thematic concerns which are raised by Oroonoko, and to take the same level of care to provide realism to the work.
Other examples of specific detail can be seen in More’s corporeal descriptions of “mangled flesh” and other vivid bodily images throughout Yamba39
In the abolitionist works of the 1790’s great care was taken to ensure that the portrayals of the slaves seemed authentic to the reader, whilst very few of the authors made claims to be recounting real events in the way that Aphra Behn does, the same care was taken over the realism of the writings.
MacKenzie’s work has fallen in to comparative obscurity when compared alongside the works of Barbauld and More, but this can be seen as much contributable to their methods of production as their success as writers. The cheaper, mass produced poetry reached a wider audience and therefore will be more widely known and is more liable to endure over the lesser known, less widely published novel.
The linguist representation of the slaves was an important part of this realism, where the authors chose to have the slaves themselves speak it was important that the words they used sounded like the pigeon English the slaves would have developed during their time in slavery. Therefore a studied level of inarticulacy was used
She cry, man laugh- She sick, tired, labor all day, no one pity. – She call Sambo, –Sambo gone.- sink down- Die!” 40
Connetives and conjunctions were often left out of speeches
given to slave characters to make their speech sound authentic, in addition to this words like “Massa Hard” 41 were used to try and achieve authenticity of speech.
It was necessary for the authors to make their slave characters seems as authentic as possible for their narratives to carry any force for the arguments they were attempting to make, if the slaves themselves did not seem to be convincing as characters then the rest of the narrative would also be thrown into question and the arguments disregarded.
However in the case of poetry this sometimes created problems. The need to maintain the metric integrity of the poem made it difficult to make the inarticulate speech of the slaves sound authentic within the highly structured poetic framework.
To this end some poets chose not to let their characters speak, merely describing their situations through third person narration, thereby eliminating the issue.
Forced her averted eyes his stripes to scan,
Beneath the bloody scourge laid bare the man. 42
Highlighting once again the harsh tortures the slaves were subjected to.
Often the language used to describe these tortures by these third person narrators is emotive and loaded with religious significance, words like sin are used to invoke the religious ideology underpinning the argument, and great pains are taken to ensure that the Africans are seen as men,
For (not unmarked in Heaven’s impartial plan)
Shall man, proud worm, contemn his fellow man? 43
where perhaps before they had been seen as less than human. Attempts were now made to show that the African nations had equally valid human rights. This was an important part of the abolitionist campaign as previously slavery had been excused on the grounds that the African peoples were less than human and subsequently treating them like animals was acceptable. These beliefs were perpetuated beyond the abolition of slavery and can be seen in many literary works of the nineteenth century such as the works of H Rider Haggard, which are now condemned for their racist sentiments towards African nationals, but which are simply expressing the views of many at the time.
Women played an important part in the abolitionist campaign, their literary works were used to publicise the cause and to challenge the stereotypes perpetuated by male dominated society, women were also active members of the society for the abolition of the slave trade, founded in 1783,
Some of the leaders of the anti-slavery movement such as William Wilberforce were totally opposed to women being involved in the campaign….[because] women wanted to go further than the abolition of the slave trade. Early women activists … were in favour of the immediate abolition of slavery, whereas Wilberforce believed that the movement should concentrate on bringing an end to the slave trade.
Although women were excluded from the leadership of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, records show that about ten per cent of the financial supporters of the organisation were women. In some areas, such as Manchester, women made up over a quarter of all subscribers. 44
While there is no direct evidence to suggest that Anna MacKenzie was a member of the society for the abolition of the slave trade it is highly likely that she was, the sentiments she expresses within her novel and indeed the fact that she chooses to write a novel on this topic suggests that it is something she feels strongly about.
It is also possible to speculate that by aligning herself with one of the abolitionist societies and further publicizing their cause through her work she may have looked to increase the readership of her novels.
Many of the women who aligned themselves with the abolitionist debate came from dissenting backgrounds, Elizabeth Heyrick was the daughter of a Unitarian and married a Methodist, Anna Laetitia Barbauld was also a Unitarian, while other abolitionist poets came from Quaker backgrounds.
Religious ideology was tied very closely to the appeals for abolition and emphasized by different religious groups in different ways
Quaker emphasis on the individual guilt of supporting slavery through consumption of slave-grown goods, and individual responsibility to abstain was tied to the Quakers’ belief in the importance of following the dictates of ones own conscience45
Where as other religious groups concerned themselves more with the sinful aspects of the trade itself referring to “the love of filthy gold”.46 Greed is a sin. Therefore, by implication, slavery was wrong on religious, as well as moral grounds.
The demand for reform and the belief in human progress were
now equated with traditional Christian principles, such as human communality and God's concern for all people. 47
The fact that these women maintained such a strong religious belief whilst being excluded from society by their faith seems to have given them a particular understanding of the plight of the slaves. They appear to have been able to identify with the slaves as fellow outcasts from society.
The women from these dissenting communities would be able to empathise with the slaves on two counts. Firstly their status as dissenters would exclude them from certain areas of the community, and secondly their status as women would further exclude them.
Women at this time had very few rights within society and therefore would by implication be able to empathise with the slaves who had even less rights than themselves. It is possible to conjecture that some of the women hoped that if they were able to improve life for the slaves they may eventually be able to improve their own situations as well.
Slavery or the Times draws parallels between the situation of women and the plight of slaves by juxtaposing the two groups together. Miss Hamilton provides the reader with an example of a woman who is virtually imprisoned by her guardian, she herself being an orphan. She hates the man and yet is subject to his will due to the restrictions society places on her, being a woman with no property or legal rights of her own. Through the course of the novel the reader witnesses her distress at being subject to the guardianship of the odious Mr Abrahams and we are to see the parallels between the situation of a young woman, and the situation of the slaves. She is kept in the house against her will, has her property taken from her and is generally made subject to the dissolute Mr Abrahams. By including the portrayal of this character within a novel about slavery Anna MacKenzie is assumedly alluding to the lack of freedom that women had within eighteenth century society, where they were made subject to their husband, father or guardians will and were treated virtually as property in the same way that slaves were.
As the novel is inviting the reader to question the morality and decency of slavery and is aligning the plight of women with that of slaves then by implication the novel is also inviting the reader to critique the treatment of women in society. Having been married twice Anna MacKenzie would have been aware of the legal rights and freedoms that women had within British society at this time, she would also have been aware of the constraints placed upon her as an authoress.
As a novelist she would be expected to keep tight control of her image, it was important that she remain lady like, as novel writing was often considered a scandalous occupation. To this extent many women chose not to put their names on their work, other chose male pseudonyms, Anna MacKenzie wrote as Johanssen Kinderslaw , or others like Anna MacKenzie, chose to publish under their married names, the majority of her work was published as Mrs Cox. The social restrictions on women that enforced this level of self censorship were just part of the moral and legal challenges to women’s personal identities and freedoms which Anna MacKenzie is alluding to with her portrayal of Miss Hamilton.
The growth in awareness of restrictions placed on human rights began with abolitionism and was then perpetuated further into the call for women’s suffrage. However because of the religious and moral aspects of the abolitionist debate, along with its wider base of public support it took longer for women’s rights to be affected than the rights of slaves.
There is no doubt that public awareness of the issue of slavery was raised by the publication of abolitionist works of fiction. Many of the poems were published as cheap tracts allowing them to be readily available to the general public. This meant that they were more widely read. Novels such as Slavery or the Times were published by subscription and therefore possibly not quite as widely read. Anna MacKenzie’s work does seem to have been well subscribed her novel Joseph lists over seventy subscribers in its introduction.48 Almost all of these are members of society who would have had the money to purchase a novel which would have cost more to produce, and therefore buy, than the cheaper tracts of poetry. This is possibly one reason why the abolitionist novels were not as successful in promoting the cause as the poems. They would also take longer to read and therefore would be more suited to those members of the society with the leisure to read them, the gentry, than the more readily accessible poems.
These reasons would suggest that the enduring success of poets like Barbauld and More lay in their ability to reach the general public through the mass production of their works. The abolitionist poets were also recognized within a movement in poetry at this time period, their expressions of belief in human freedom and abhorrence of suffering ties them very closely to the sentiments of the Romantics movement, indeed many of the poets who published abolitionist works More, Barbauld and Coleridge are currently categorized as Romantic poets.
The success of the abolitionist movement was undoubtedly in part due to the public support it was able to engender, therefore the publicity of the cause created by the novels and the poems can be said to directly contributory to the abolition of slavery. The fact that different works reached different sectors of the public can be seen as part of its success.
If the abolitionists had relied purely on the publication of the cheap poetic tracts bought by the working classes, then abolitionism might have been dismissed purely as a working class concern and could even have been seen as an attack on the gentry who would have been the slave owners. Similarly if they had relied on novels which would have been bought by the upper classes, then the whole debate might have been dismissed as an upper class concern remote from the day to day lives of the ordinary people.
The success of the abolitionists was in their ability to combine all elements of society both upper and lower classes and to achieve the support of intellectual poets and authors, religious leaders and politicians, thereby making the debate a concern of the whole of society and not just particular groups.
Christian ideology was used to under pin the Abolitionist argument and women were among its strongest proponents despite being unable to exert direct political influence, being excluded from voting, they were able to exert pressure in other ways and were instrumental in publicizing the cause.
Anna MacKenzie’s work exhibits many of the features of the abolitionist literature and was undoubtedly written as part of the literary tradition. Given her other novels extensive subscription it is possible to conjecture that her work would have been reasonably influential amongst her readership. However it is impossible to ascertain the extent that one piece of literature could influence the debate.
Anna MacKenzie’s work came at a time when the debate was foremost in people’s minds and formed part of the great wealth of literary works which helped to keep the debate alive, works which were instrumental in effecting the eventual abolition of slavery.
1 Midgeley C Women against slavery. The British Campaigns. 1780-1870. Routledge 1992 UK : 34
2 MacKenzie A. M. The Irish Guardian or Errors of Eccentricity vol:1 1809 London Longman in http://www.chawton.org/novels/IrishGuardian/docs/Guardian1.pdf http://www.chawton.org/novels/IrishGuardian/docs/Guardian1.pdf [15.3.06] p2
3 MacKenzie A.M. Burton-Wood. In a series of Letters vol:1 1783 Dublin in HYPERLINK "http://callisto.ggsrv.com/imgsrv" http://callisto.ggsrv.com/imgsrv [08.01.2006]
4 Equino O The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African in http://www.brycchancarey.com/equiano/index.htm [30.3.06]
5Sancho I 1782 taken from HYPERLINK "http://brycchancarey.com/sancho/biblio.htm#editions" http://brycchancarey.com/sancho/biblio.htm#editions [10.2.06]
6 Midgeley C:34
7 Carey B http://www.brycchancarey.com/equiano/index.htm [30.3.06]
8 http://www.brycchancarey.com/sancho/letter1.htm [20.03.06]
9 Atwood M 1990: 29 In Green K and LeBihan J Critical Theory and Practise: a Course book Routledge 2002 p297
10 Jekyll J. The Life of Ignatius Sancho http://www.brycchancarey.com/sancho/life.htm [20.03.06]
11 MacKenzie A. M. Slavery or The Times 1793 Dublin in http://galenet.galegroup.com.lcproxy.shu.ac.uk/servlet/ECCO :15 [20.03.06]
12 Midgeley C:30
13 More H The sorrows of Yamba or the Negroe womans lamentation 1795 in Romanticism an Anthology Edited by Wu D Blackwell 1994 :27
14 MacKenzie A Slavery or the Times : 7
15 MacKenzie A slavery or the Times : 212
16 Wu D :28
17Romantic Audience Project: Final thoughts http://ssad.bowdoin.edu:8668/space/final+thoughts [30.3.06]
18 Woo D. : 29-30
19 http://www.brycchancarey.com/sancho/letter1.htm [20.03.06]
20 MacKenzie A Slavery or the Times : 24
21 MamKenzie A Slavery or the Times :24
22 MacKenzie A Slavery or the Times : 39
23 MacKenzie A Slavery or theTimes:217-8
24 MacKenzie A Slavery or the Times :218
25 MacKenzie A Slavery or the Times: 218
26 MacKenzie A Slavery or the Times : 218
27 Midgeley C :35
28 Midgeley C :35
29 Wu D:28
30 MacKenzie A Slavery or the times : 248
31 New Jersualem Bible Darton, Longman and Todd UK 1985. St Lukes Gospel chpt 23 verse 34 :1730
32 Wu D : 30
33 MacKenzie A Slavery or the Times: 39
34 MacKenzie A Slavery or the Times : 27
35 Midgeley C :30
36 MAcKenzie A Slavery or the Times: 249
37 Behn A Oroonoko or the Royal Slave in http://eserver.org/fiction/oroonoko/ [26.3.06]
38 More H Slavery A poem in http://www.brycchancarey.com/slavery/morepoems.htm [30.03.06]
39 Romantic Audience Project [30.3.06]
40 MacKenzie A. M. Slavery or The Times :15
41 Wu D :28
42 Barbauld A L Epistle to William Wilberforce esq on the rejection of the bill for abolishing the slave trade 1792 in Wu D Romanticism an Anthology 1994 Blackwell:20
43 Wu D: 21
44 Women’s anti slavery associations http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REslaveryW.htm [30.03.06]
45 Midgeley C:35
46 Wu D :27
47Hackett L The Age of Enlightenment 1992 in http://history-world.org/age_of_enlightenment.htm [30.3.06]
48 MacKenzie A Joseph http://callisto.ggsrv.com/imgsrv [08.01.2006]
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