Writings on Slavery

This subsection consists of works generated by the Atlantic slave trade and its opposition. From the 1780s onward, an astonishing and unprecedented array of texts appeared, both pro- and anti-slavery: poems, novels, plays, histories, sermons, speeches, newspaper columns and letters, travelogues, medical treatises, handbills, broadsides, songs, children's books. These writings are diverse in perspective and stance, but they often overlap, making slavery one of the most ubiquitous topics in the Romantic era. The reading list below comprises work by abolitionists, apologists, and Africans writing in the period and raises questions about the relation of British Romanticism to colonialism and slavery.

Many of these writings are available in the new anthologies devoted to this growing and imporant area of scholarship. Students are urged to consult Primary Works/ Anthologies: Primary, especially texts edited by Wood and by Kitson and Lee (8 vols.) as well as critical studies under Research Areas: Empire & Slavery. In addition to abolitionist work, Wood's anthology includes pro-slavery poems written on both sides of the Atlantic. Kitson and Lee organize their texts thematically by genre and topic in eight volumes, each one edited and introduced by an expert scholar in the field. In volume one, Lee provides a strong introduction and editors include virtually every known black writer on slavery published in Britain in the period; volumes two
and three cover the abolition debate and emancipation; the next three volumes are devoted to genre (poetry, drama, and fiction respectively); and the final two volumes deal with theories of medicine and of race.

The writings below, and the scholarship built up around them, are asking fundamental questions relevant to our course, such as how do we account for the concurrent rise of the abolition movement, the peak of Atlantic slavery, and the emergence of literary Romanticism? More problematically, how do we deal with the fact that when British imperialism was destroying Africans and denying them home and humanity, British writers were valorising an expansive selfhood through national and individual liberty? Our courses will engage these questions, focusing on concepts of identity and difference, issues of sexuality and gender, and problems of race and social justice.

Barbauld, Anna Laetitia Epistle to William Wilberforce (1791)
Benezet, Anthony Historical Account of Guinea...With an Inquiry into the Rise and Progress of the Slave Trade (1788)

Blake, William

“The Little Black Boy,” in Songs of Innocence (1789)
Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793)

Boswell, James No Abolition of Slavery; or, the Universal Empire of Love (1791)

Clarkson, Thomas

History of the Rise, Progress, and…Abolition of the African Slave-Trade (1808)

Clarkson, Thomas An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species (1788)
Cowper, William

The Task, Book 2, "The Time Piece" (1785)
"The Morning Dream" (1788)
"The Negro's Complaint" (1793)

Cugoano, Ottobah

Thoughts and Sentiments on…Slavery (1787)

Equiano, Olaudah

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano…the African (1789)

More, Hannah Slavery, A Poem (1788)
The Sorrows of Yamba (1795)

Mulligan, Hugh

Poems Chiefly on Slavery and Oppression (1788)

Newton, John.

"Amazing Grace" in Olney Hymns (17799)
Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade
Opie, Amelia The Black Man's Lament (1826)

Prince, Mary

The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave (1831)

Ramsay, James An Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the Sugar Colonies (1784)

Robinson, Mary

“The Negro Girl,” in Lyrical Tales (1800)

Roscoe, William

The Wrongs of Africa (1787-88)
“Ode...on the abolition of the African slave trade,” in Poems (1834)
Sancho, Ignatius Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho (1782)
Southey, Robert “Poems on the Slave Trade,” in Poems 1797 (1797)
Stedman, John Gabriel

Narrative of a five years' expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1795)

Wedderburn, Robert The Horrors of Slavery and Other Writings (ed. 1991)

Wilberforce, William

A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1807)

Wordsworth, William

"To Touissaint L'Overture" and
"Sonnet to Thomas Clarkson," in Poems (1807)

Williams, Helen Maria

Poem on the Bill Lately Passed for Regulating the Slave Trade (1788)
Yearsley, Ann A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade (1788)