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A POEM ON THE INHUMANITY OF THE SLAVE-TRADE.

1 BRISTOL, thine heart hath throbb'd to glory. Slaves,
2 E'en Christian slaves, have shook their chains, and gaz'd
3 With wonder and amazement on thee. Hence
4 Ye grov'ling souls, who think the term I give,
5 Of Christian slave, a paradox! to you
6 I do not turn, but leave you to conception
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7 Narrow; with that be blest, nor dare to stretch
8 Your shackled souls along the course of Freedom.
9 Yet, Bristol, list! nor deem Lactilla's soul
10 Lessen'd by distance; snatch her rustic thought,
11 Her crude ideas, from their panting state,
12 And let them fly in wide expansion; lend
13 Thine energy, so little understood
14 By the rude million, and I'll dare the strain
15 Of Heav'n-born Liberty till Nature moves
16 Obedient to her voice. Alas! my friend,
17 Strong rapture dies within the soul, while Pow'r
18 Drags on his bleeding victims. Custom, Law,
19 Ye blessings, and ye curses of mankind,
20 What evils do ye cause? We feel enslaved,
21 Yet move in your direction. Custom, thou
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22 Wilt preach up filial piety; thy sons
23 Will groan, and stare with impudence at Heav'n,
24 As if they did abjure the act, where Sin
25 Sits full on Inhumanity; the church
26 They fill with mouthing, vap'rous sighs and tears,
27 Which, like the guileful crocodile's, oft fall,
28 Nor fall, but at the cost of human bliss.
29 Custom, thou hast undone us! led us far
30 From God-like probity, from truth, and heaven.
31 But come, ye souls who feel for human woe,
32 Tho' drest in savage guise! Approach, thou son,
33 Whose heart would shudder at a father's chains,
34 And melt o'er thy lov'd brother as he lies
35 Gasping in torment undeserv'd. Oh, sight
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36 Horrid and insupportable! far worse
37 Than an immediate, an heroic death;
38 Yet to this sight I summon thee. Approach,
39 Thou slave of avarice, that canst see the maid
40 Weep o'er her inky sire! Spare me, thou God
41 Of all-indulgent Mercy, if I scorn
42 This gloomy wretch, and turn my tearful eye
43 To more enlighten'd beings. Yes, my tear
44 Shall hang on the green furze, like pearly dew
45 Upon the blossom of the morn. My song
46 Shall teach sad Philomel a louder note,
47 When Nature swells her woe. O'er suff'ring man
48 My soul with sorrow bends! Then come, ye few
49 Who feel a more than cold, material essence;
50 Here ye may vent your sighs, till the bleak North
51 Find its adherents aided. Ah, no more!
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52 The dingy youth comes on, sullen in chains;
53 He smiles on the rough sailor, who aloud
54 Strikes at the spacious heav'n, the earth, the sea,
55 In breath too blasphemous; yet not to him
56 Blasphemous, for he dreads not either: lost
57 In dear internal imag'ry, the soul
58 Of Indian Luco rises to his eyes,
59 Silent, not inexpressive: the strong beams
60 With eager wildness yet drink in the view
61 Of his too humble home, where he had left
62 His mourning father, and his Incilanda.
63 Curse on the toils spread by a Christian hand
64 To rob the Indian of his freedom! Curse
65 On him who from a bending parent steals
66 His dear support of age, his darling child;
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67 Perhaps a son, or a more tender daughter,
68 Who might have clos'd his eyelids, as the spark
69 Of life gently retired. Oh, thou poor world!
70 Thou fleeting good to individuals! see
71 How much for thee they care, how wide they ope
72 Their helpless arms to clasp thee; vapour thou!
73 More swift than passing wind! thou leav'st them nought
74 Amid th'unreal scene, but a scant grave.
75 I know the crafty merchant will oppose
76 The plea of nature to my strain, and urge
77 His toils are for his children: the soft plea
78 Dissolves my soul but when I sell a son,
79 Thou God of nature, let it be my own!
80 Behold that Christian! see what horrid joy
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81 Lights up his moody features, while he grasps
82 The wish'd-for gold, purchase of human blood!
83 Away, thou seller of mankind! Bring on
84 Thy daughter to this market! bring thy wife!
85 Thine aged mother, though of little worth,
86 With all thy ruddy boys! Sell them, thou wretch,
87 And swell the price of Luco! Why that start?
88 Why gaze as thou wouldst fright me from my challenge
89 With look of anguish? Is it Nature strains
90 Thine heart-strings at the image? Yes, my charge
91 Is full against her, and she rends thy soul,
92 While I but strike upon thy pityless ear,
93 Fearing her rights are violated. Speak,
94 Astound the voice of Justice! bid thy tears
95 Melt the unpitying pow'r, while thus she claims
96 The pledges of thy love. Oh, throw thine arm
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97 Around thy little ones, and loudly plead
98 Thou canst not sell thy children. Yet, beware
99 Lest Luco's groan be heard; should that prevail,
100 Justice will scorn thee in her turn, and hold
101 Thine act against thy pray'r. Why clasp, she cries,
102 That blooming youth? Is it because thou lov'st him?
103 Why Luco was belov'd: then wilt thou feel,
104 Thou selfish Christian, for thy private woe,
105 Yet cause such pangs to him that is a father?
106 Whence comes thy right to barter for thy fellows?
107 Where are thy statutes? Whose the iron pen
108 That gave thee precedent? Give me the seal
109 Of virtue, or religion, for thy trade,
110 And I will ne'er upbraid thee; but if force
111 Superior, hard brutality alone
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112 Become thy boast, hence to some savage haunt,
113 Nor claim protection from my social laws.
114 Luco is gone; his little brothers weep,
115 While his fond mother climbs the hoary rock
116 Whose point o'er-hangs the main. No Luco there,
117 No sound, save the hoarse billows. On she roves,
118 With love, fear, hope, holding alternate rage
119 In her too anxious bosom. Dreary main!
120 Thy murmurs now are riot, while she stands
121 List'ning to ev'ry breeze, waiting the step
122 Of gentle Luco. Ah, return! return!
123 Too hapless mother, thy indulgent arms
124 Shall never clasp thy fetter'd Luco more.
125 See Incilanda! artless maid, my soul
126 Keeps pace with thee, and mourns. Now o'er the hill
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127 She creeps, with timid foot, while Sol embrowns
128 The bosom of the isle, to where she left
129 Her faithful lover: here the well-known cave,
130 By Nature form'd amid the rock, endears
131 The image of her Luco; here his pipe,
132 Form'd of the polish'd cane, neglected lies,
133 No more to vibrate; here the useless dart,
134 The twanging bow, and the fierce panther's skin,
135 Salute the virgin's eye. But where is Luco?
136 He comes not down the steep, tho' he had vow'd,
137 When the sun's beams at noon should sidelong gild
138 The cave's wide entrance, he would swift descend
139 To bless his Incilanda. Ten pale moons
140 Had glided by, since to his generous breast
141 He clasp'd the tender maid, and whisper'd love.
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142 Oh, mutual sentiment! thou dang'rous bliss!
143 So exquisite, that Heav'n had been unjust
144 Had it bestowd less exquisite of ill;
145 When thou art held no more, thy pangs are deep,
146 Thy joys convulsive to the soul; yet all
147 Are meant to smooth th'uneven road of life.
148 For Incilanda, Luco rang'd the wild,
149 Holding her image to his panting heart;
150 For her he strain'd the bow, for her he stript
151 The bird of beauteous plumage; happy hour,
152 When with these guiltless trophies he adorn'd
153 The brow of her he lov'd. Her gentle breast
154 With gratitude was fill'd, nor knew she aught
155 Of language strong enough to paint her soul,
156 Or ease the great emotion; whilst her eye
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157 Pursued the gen'rous Luco to the field,
158 And glow'd with rapture at his wish'd return.
159 Ah, sweet suspense! betwixt the mingled cares
160 Of friendship, love, and gratitude, so mix'd,
161 That ev'n the soul may cheat herself. Down, down,
162 Intruding Memory! bid thy struggles cease,
163 At this soft scene of innate war. What sounds
164 Break on her ear? She, starting, whispers "Luco."
165 Be still, fond maid; list to the tardy step
166 Of leaden-footed woe. A father comes,
167 But not to seek his son, who from the deck
168 Had breath'd a last adieu: no, he shuts out
169 The soft, fallacious gleam of hope, and turns
170 Within upon the mind: horrid and dark
171 Are his wild, unenlighten'd pow'rs: no ray
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172 Of forc'd philosophy to calm his soul,
173 But all the anarchy of wounded nature.
174 Now he arraigns his country's gods, who sit,
175 In his bright fancy, far beyond the hills,
176 Unriveting the chains of slaves: his heart
177 Beats quick with stubborn fury, while he doubts
178 Their justice to his child. Weeping old man,
179 Hate not a Christian's God, whose record holds
180 Thine injured Luco's name. Frighted he starts,
181 Blasphemes the Deity, whose altars rise
182 Upon the Indian's helpless neck, and sinks,
183 Despising comfort, till by grief and age
184 His angry spirit is forced out. Oh, guide,
185 Ye angel-forms, this joyless shade to worlds
186 Where the poor Indian, with the sage, is prov'd
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187 The work of a Creator. Pause not here,
188 Distracted maid! ah, leave the breathless form,
189 On whose cold cheek thy tears so swiftly fall,
190 Too unavailing! On this stone, she cries,
191 My Luco sat, and to the wand'ring stars
192 Pointed my eye, while from his gentle tongue
193 Fell old traditions of his country's woe.
194 Where now shall Incilanda seek him? Hence,
195 Defenceless mourner, ere the dreary night
196 Wrap thee in added horror. Oh, Despair,
197 How eagerly thou rend'st the heart! She pines
198 In anguish deep, and sullen: Luco's form
199 Pursues her, lives in restless thought, and chides
200 Soft consolation. Banish'd from his arms,
201 She seeks the cold embrace of death; her soul
202 Escapes in one sad sigh. Too hapless maid!
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203 Yet happier far than he thou lov'dst; his tear,
204 His sigh, his groan avail not, for they plead
205 Most weakly with a Christian. Sink, thou wretch,
206 Whose act shall on the cheek of Albion's sons
207 Throw Shame's red blush: thou, who hast frighted far
208 Those simple wretches from thy God, and taught
209 Their erring minds to mourn his
* Indians have been often heard to say, in their complaining moments, "God Almighty no love us well; he be good to
White man
buckera; he bid buckera burn us; he no burn buckera. "
partial love,
210 Profusely pour'd on thee, while they are left
211 Neglected to thy mercy. Thus deceiv'd,
212 How doubly dark must be their road to death!
213 Luco is borne around the neighb'ring isles,
214 Losing the knowledge of his native shore
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215 Amid the pathless wave; destin'd to plant
216 The sweet luxuriant cane. He strives to please,
217 Nor once complains, but greatly smothers grief.
218 His hands are blister'd, and his feet are worn,
219 Till ev'ry stroke dealt by his mattock gives
220 Keen agony to life; while from his breast
221 The sigh arises, burthen'd with the name
222 Of Incilanda. Time inures the youth,
223 His limbs grow nervous, strain'd by willing toil;
224 And resignation, or a calm despair,
225 (Most useful either) lulls him to repose.
226 A Christian renegade, that from his soul
227 Abjures the tenets of our schools, nor dreads
228 A future punishment, nor hopes for mercy,
229 Had fled from England, to avoid those laws
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230 Which must have made his life a retribution
231 To violated justice, and had gain'd,
232 By fawning guile, the confidence (ill placed)
233 Of Luco's master. O'er the slave he stands
234 With knotted whip, lest fainting nature shun
235 The task too arduous, while his cruel soul,
236 Unnat'ral, ever feeds, with gross delight,
237 Upon his [suff'rings]. Many slaves there were,
238 But none who could supress the sigh, and bend,
239 So quietly as Luco: long he bore
240 The stripes, that from his manly bosom drew
241 The sanguine stream (too little priz'd); at length
242 Hope fled his soul, giving her struggles o'er,
243 And he resolv'd to die. The sun had reach'd
244 His zenith pausing faintly, Luco stood,
245 Leaning upon his hoe, while mem'ry brought,
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246 In piteous imag'ry, his aged father,
247 His poor fond mother, and his faithful maid:
248 The mental group in wildest motion set
249 Fruitless imagination; fury, grief,
250 Alternate shame, the sense of insult, all
251 Conspire to aid the inward storm; yet words
252 Were no relief, he stood in silent woe.
253 Gorgon, remorseless Christian, saw the slave
254 Stand musing, 'mid the ranks, and, stealing soft
255 Behind the studious Luco, struck his cheek
256 With a too-heavy whip, that reach'd his eye,
257 Making it dark for ever. Luco turn'd,
258 In strongest agony, and with his hoe
259 Struck the rude Christian on the forehead. Pride,
260 With hateful malice, seize on Gorgon's soul,
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261 By nature fierce; while Luco sought the beach,
262 And plung'd beneath the wave; but near him lay
263 A planter's barge, whose seamen grasp'd his hair
264 Dragging to life a wretch who wish'd to die.
265 Rumour now spreads the tale, while Gorgon's breath
266 Envenom'd, aids her blast: imputed crimes
267 Oppose the plea of Luco, till he scorns
268 Even a just defence, and stands prepared.
269 The planters, conscious that to fear alone
270 They owe their cruel pow'r, resolve to blend
271 New torment with the pangs of death, and hold
272 Their victims high in dreadful view, to fright
273 The wretched number left. Luco is chain'd
274 To a huge tree, his fellow-slaves are ranged
275 To share the horrid sight; fuel is plac'd
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276 In an increasing train, some paces back,
277 To kindle slowly, and approach the youth,
278 With more than native terror. See, it burns!
279 He gazes on the growing flame, and calls
280 For "water, water!" The small boon's deny'd.
281 E'en Christians throng each other, to behold
282 The different alterations of his face,
283 As the hot death approaches. (Oh, shame, shame
284 Upon the followers of Jesus! shame
285 On him that dares avow a God!) He writhes,
286 While down his breast glide the unpity'd tears,
287 And in their sockets strain their scorched balls.
288 "Burn, burn me quick! I cannot die!" he cries:
289 "Bring fire more close!" The planters heed him not,
290 But still prolonging Luco's torture, threat
291 Their trembling slaves around. His lips are dry,
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292 His senses seem to quiver, e'er they quit
293 His frame for ever, rallying strong, then driv'n
294 From the tremendous conflict. Sight no more
295 Is Luco's, his parch'd tongue is ever mute;
296 Yet in his soul his Incilanda stays,
297 Till both escape together. Turn, my muse,
298 From this sad scene; lead Bristol's milder soul
299 To where the solitary spirit roves,
300 Wrapt in the robe of innocence, to shades
301 Where pity breathing in the gale, dissolves
302 The mind, when fancy paints such real woe.
303 Now speak, ye Christians (who for gain enslave
304 A soul like Luco's, tearing her from joy
305 In life's short vale; and if there be a hell,
306 As ye believe, to that ye thrust her down,
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307 A blind, involuntary victim), where
308 Is your true essence of religion? where
309 Your proofs of righteousness, when ye conceal
310 The knowledge of the Deity from those
311 Who would adore him fervently? Your God
312 Ye rob of worshippers, his altars keep
313 Unhail'd, while driving from the sacred font
314 The eager slave, lest he should hope in Jesus.
315 Is this your piety? Are these your laws,
316 Whereby the glory of the Godhead spreads
317 O'er barb'rous climes? Ye hypocrites, disown
318 The Christian name, nor shame its cause: yet where
319 Shall souls like yours find welcome? Would the Turk,
320 Pagan, or wildest Arab, ope their arms
321 To gain such proselytes? No; he that owns
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322 The name of
* The Turk gives freedom to his slave on condition that he embraces Mahometism.
Mussulman would start, and shun
323 Your worse than serpent touch; he frees his slave
324 Who turns to Mahomet. The
The Spaniard, immediately on purchasing an Indian, gives him baptism.
Spaniard stands
325 Your brighter contrast; he condemns the youth
326 For ever to the mine; but ere the wretch
327 Sinks to the deep domain, the hand of Faith
328 Bathes his faint temples in the sacred stream,
329 Bidding his spirit hope. Briton, dost thou
330 Act up to this? If so, bring on thy slaves
331 To Calv'ry's mount, raise high their kindred souls
332 To him who died to save them: this alone
333 Will teach them calmly to obey thy rage,
334 And deem a life of misery but a day,
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335 To long eternity. Ah, think how soon
336 Thine head shall on earth's dreary pillow lie,
337 With thy poor slaves, each silent, and unknown
338 To his once furious neighbour. Think how swift
339 The sands of time ebb out, for him and thee.
340 Why groans that Indian youth, in burning chains
341 Suspended o'er the beach? The lab'ring sun
342 Strikes from his full meridian on the slave
343 Whose arms are blister'd by the heated iron,
344 Which still corroding, seeks the bone. What crime
345 Merits so dire a death?
* A coromantin slave in Jamaica (who had frequently escaped to the mountains) was, a few years since, doomed to have his leg cut off. A young practitioner from England (after the surgeon of the estate had refused to be an executioner) undertook the operation, but after the removal of the limb, on the slave's exclaiming, You buckera! God Almightly made dat leg; you cut it off! You put it on again? was so shocked, that the other surgeon was obliged to take up the vessals, apply the dressings, &c. The Negro suffered without a groan, called for his pipe, and calmly smoaked, till the absence of his attendant gave him an opportunity of tearing off his bandages, when he bled to death in an instant.       Many will call this act of the Negro's stubbornness; under such circumstances, I dare give it a more glorious epithet, and that is fortitude.
Another gasps
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346 With strongest agony, while life declines
347 From recent amputation. Gracious God!
348 Why thus in mercy let thy whirlwinds sleep
349 O'er a vile race of Christians, who profane
350 Thy glorious attributes? Sweep them from earth,
351 Or check their cruel pow'r: the savage tribes
352 Are angels when compared to brutes like these.
353 Advance, ye Christians, and oppose my strain:
354 Who dares condemn it? Prove from laws divine,
355 From deep philosophy, or social love,
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356 That ye derive your privilege. I scorn
357 The cry of Av'rice, or the trade that drains
358 A fellow-creature's blood: bid Commerce plead
359 Her publick good, her nation's many wants,
360 Her sons thrown idly on the beach, forbade
361 To seize the image of their God and sell it:
362 I'll hear her voice, and Virtue's hundred tongues
363 Shall sound against her. Hath our public good
364 Fell rapine for its basis? Must our wants
365 Find their supply in murder? Shall the sons
366 Of Commerce shiv'ring stand, if not employ'd
367 Worse than the midnight robber? Curses fall
368 On the destructive system that shall need
369 Such base supports! Doth England need them? No;
370 Her laws, with prudence, hang the meagre thief
371 That from his neighbour steals a slender sum,
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372 Tho' famine drove him on. O'er him the priest,
373 Beneath the fatal tree, laments the crime,
374 Approves the law, and bids him calmly die.
375 Say, doth this law, that dooms the thief, protect
376 The wretch who makes another's life his prey,
377 By hellish force to take it at his will?
378 Is this an English law, whose guidance fails
379 When crimes are swell'd to magnitude so vast,
380 That Justice dare not scan them? Or does Law
381 Bid Justice an eternal distance keep
382 From England's great tribunal, when the slave
383 Calls loud on Justice only? Speak, ye few
384 Who fill Britannia's senate, and are deem'd
385 The fathers of your country! Boast your laws,
386 Defend the honour of a land so fall'n,
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387 That Fame from ev'ry battlement is flown,
388 And Heathens start, e'en at a Christian's name.
389 Hail, social love! true soul of order, hail!
390 Thy softest emanations, pity, grief,
391 Lively emotion, sudden joy, and pangs,
392 Too. deep for language, are thy own: then rise,
393 Thou gentle angel! spread thy silken wings
394 O'er drowsy man, breathe in his soul, and give
395 Her God-like pow'rs thy animating force,
396 To banish Inhumanity. Oh, loose
397 The fetters of his mind, enlarge his views,
398 Break down for him the bound of avarice, lift
399 His feeble faculties beyond a world
400 To which he soon must prove a stranger! Spread
401 Before his ravish'd eye the varied tints
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402 Of future glory; bid them live to Fame,
403 Whose banners wave for ever. Thus inspired,
404 All that is great, and good, and sweetly mild,
405 Shall fill his noble bosom. He shall melt,
406 Yea, by thy sympathy unseen, shall feel
407 Another's pang: for the lamenting maid
408 His heart shall heave a sigh; with the old slave
409 (Whose head is bent with sorrow) he shall cast
410 His eye back on the joys of youth, and say,
411 "Thou once couldst feel, as I do, love's pure bliss;
412 " Parental fondness, and the dear returns
413 "Of filial tenderness were thine, till torn
414 " From the dissolving scene. " Oh, social love,
415 Thou universal good, thou that canst fill
416 The vacuum of immensity, and live
417 In endless void! thou that in motion first
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418 Set'st the long lazy atoms, by thy force
419 Quickly assimilating, and restrain'd
420 By strong attraction; touch the soul of man;
421 Subdue him; make a fellow-creature's woe
422 His own by heart-felt sympathy, whilst wealth
423 Is made subservient to his soft disease.
424 And when thou hast to high perfection wrought
425 This mighty work, say, "such is Bristol's soul."

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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): A POEM ON THE INHUMANITY OF THE SLAVE-TRADE.
Themes: politics; virtue; vice
Genres: blank verse; narrative verse

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Source edition

A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade. London: Printed For G.G.J. And J. Robinson, Paternoster-Row, MDCCLXXXVIII., 1788, pp. []-30.  (ESTC T96948)

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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

Secondary literature

  • Carey, Brycchan. The poetics of radical Abolitionism: Ann Yearsley's 'Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade'. Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 34(1) (2015): 89-105. Print.