African-British Writings in the Eighteenth Century: The Politics of Race and Reason

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Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999 - 180 pages


The eighteenth century was a time of great cultural change in Britain. It was a period marked by expeditions to the New World, Africa, and the Orient, and these voyages were reflected in the travel literature of the era. It was also a period in which seventeenth-century empiricism and the scientific method became dominant, and in which society became increasingly secular. Fundamental to the eighteenth-century worldview was the notion of the Great Chain of Being, in which all creatures and their Creator stood in a hierarchical relationship with one another. The years from 1660 to 1833 witnessed both Britain's participation in slavery and the appropriation of the Great Chain of Being by social anthropologists and political leaders. With the rise of the slave trade, blacks were brought to Britain against their will, where they were enslaved. At the same time, intellectuals of the period tried to place these slaves within the hierarchical frame provided by the Great Chain of Being.

The presence of slavery in Britain aroused much debate among blacks and whites alike, and the literature of the eighteenth century reflects that debate. This book examines representations of blacks in eighteenth-century British literature to illuminate the discussions about race during that period. The volume begins with a discussion of Alexander Pope's popularization of the Great Chain of Being in his Essay on Man, which argued the universal ranking of humanity and which provided an intellectual foundation for slavery. It then examines the works of several white canonical writers, including Defoe, Addison and Steele, Swift, and Sterne, to see how blacks are portrayed in their works. The volume also examines works by African-British writers, such as James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw and Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, who expose exclusionary practices among some theologians; Ignatius Sancho, whose Letters show how slaves were taught to be grateful, and how those lacking gratitude were considered inhuman; and Olaudah Equiano, who shows how racial hierarchies function as a literary trope, particularly in travel literature. The final chapter, on The History of Mary Prince, examines the interaction of race and gender.

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Contents

Enlightenment Humanism and the Chains Discursive Legacy
1
Perspectives on a Theological Chain
31
The Measure of Benevolence and the Cult of Sensibility
67
Imaging Blackness in a Colonialist Discourse
99
The Politics of Race and Gender
133
Conclusion
149
Bibliography
153
Index
173
Copyright

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Page 134 - ... king, they set up a rotten plank or a stone for a memorial, they murder two or three dozen of the natives, bring away a couple more by force for a sample, return home, and get their pardon. Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by divine right.
Page 99 - I would not have a slave to till my ground, To carry me, to fan me while I sleep, And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth That sinews bought and sold have ever earned.
Page 30 - In JAMAICA indeed they talk of one negroe as a man of parts and learning; but 'tis likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.
Page 64 - I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.
Page 11 - ORDER is Heaven's first law ; and this confest, Some are, and must be, greater than the rest, More rich, more wise; but who infers from hence That such are happier, shocks all common sense.
Page 13 - Lo, the poor Indian ! whose untutor'd mind Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind; His soul, proud science never taught to stray Far as the solar walk, or milky way...
Page 16 - To be another, in this gen'ral frame: Just as absurd, to mourn the tasks or pains, The great directing Mind of All ordains. All are but parts of one stupendous whole, Whose body Nature is, and God the soul; That, chang'd thro' all, and yet in all the same; Great in the earth, as in th...
Page 11 - Vast chain of being! which from God began, Natures ethereal, human, angel, man, Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see, No glass can reach; from Infinite to thee, From thee to nothing.
Page xiv - And what colour of excuse can there be, for the contempt with which we treat this part of our species ; that we should not put them upon the common foot of humanity P3 that we should only set an insignificant...
Page 19 - Superior beings, when of late they saw A mortal man unfold all nature's law, Admir'd such wisdom in an earthly shape, And shew'da Newton as we shew an ape.

About the author (1999)

HELENA WOODARD is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, where she specializes in eighteenth-century British literature and culture, and in African American literature.

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