Hannah More, from Slavery,
1788 the antislavery movement was at its
peak. Revulsion at the inhuman treatment
of slaves led to the Dolben Act, which regulated
the conditions in which Africans were packed
in British ships (for instance, the Act provided
rewards to captains for voyages in which
no more than 3 percent of the slaves died).
In a note to her influential poem on slavery
(1788), Hannah More (1745–1833) says
that "The writer of these lines has
seen a complete set of chains, fitted to
every separate limb of these unhappy, innocent
men; together with instruments for wrenching
open the jaws, contrived with such ingenious
cruelty as would shock the humanity of an
inquisitor." More, a pious Christian
whose plays and religious and didactic tracts
were among the most popular works of the
age, had recently met Wilberforce, the abolitionist
leader, and had had Oroonoko staged.
The passionate involvement of women in the
antislavery cause would eventually culminate
in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's
|For no fictitious ills these numbers
But living anguish, and substantial woe;
No individual griefs my bosom melt,
For millions feel what Oroonoko felt:
Fired by no single wrongs, the countless host
I mourn, by rapine dragg'd from Afric's coast.
Perish th' illiberal thought which would debase
The native genius of the sable race!
Perish the proud philosophy, which sought
To rob them of the powers of equal thought!
Does then th' immortal principle within
Change with the casual colour of the skin?
Does matter govern spirit? or is mind
Degraded by the form to which 'tis joined?
No: they have heads to think, and hearts to feel,
And souls to act with firm, though erring, zeal;
For they have keen affections, kind desires,
Love strong as death, and active patriot fires;
All the rude energy, the fervid flame,
Of high-souled passion, and ingenuous shame:
Strong but luxuriant virtues boldly shoot
From the wild vigour of a savage root.
Nor weak their sense of honour's proud control,
For pride is virtue in a pagan soul;
A sense of worth, a conscience of desert,
A high, unbroken haughtiness of heart:
That self-same stuff which erst proud empires swayed,
Of which the conquerers of the world were made.
Capricious fate of man! that very pride
In Afric scourged, in Rome was deified.