On the Slave Trade, ST Coleridge

Tags: Clementina, The Sorrows of Young Werther, Samuel Richardson, Sir Charles Grandison, sorrows of Werter, Benevolence
Content: from On the slave trade Samuel Taylor Coleridge The Abbй Raynal computes that at the time of his writing, nine millions of slaves had been consumed by the Europeans--add one million since, (for it is near thirty years since his book was first published) and recollect, that for one procured ten at least are slaughtered, that a fifth die in the passage, and a third in the seasoning; and the calculation will amount to ONE HUNDRED and EIGHTY MILLION! Ye who have joined in this confederacy, ask of yourselves this fearful question--"if the God of Justice inflict on us that mass only of anguish which we have wantonly heaped on our brethren, what must a state of retribution be?" But who are they who have joined in this tartarean confederacy? Who are these kidnappers, and assassins? In all reasonings neglecting the intermediate links we attribute the final effect to the first cause. And what is the first and constantly acting cause of the Slave-trade? That cause, by which it exists and deprived of which it would immediately cease? It is not self-evidently the consumption of its products? And does not then the guilt rest on the consumers? And is it not an allowed axiom in morality, that wickedness may be multiplied, but cannot be divided; and that the guilt of all, attaches to each one who is knowingly an accomplice? Think not of the slave-captains and slaveholders! these very men, their darkened minds, and brutalized hearts, will prove on part of the dreadful charge against you! They are more to be pitied than the slaves; because more depraved. I address myself to you who independently of all political distinctions, profess yourself Christians! As you hope to live with Christ hereafter, you are commanded to do unto others as ye would that others should do unto you. Would you choose, that a slave merchant should incite an intoxicated Chieftain to make war on yOur country, and murder your Wife and Children before your face, or drag them with yourself to the Market? Would you choose to be sold? to have the hot iron hiss upon your breasts, after having been crammed into the hold of a Ship with so many fellow-victims, that the heat and stench, arising from your diseased bodies, should rot the very planks? Would you, that others should do this unto you? and if you shudder with selfish horror at the bare idea, do you yet dare be the occasion of it to others?--The application to the Legislature was altogether wrong. I am not convinced that on any occasion a Christian is justified in calling for the interference of secular power; but on the present occasion it was superfluous. If only one tenth part among you who profess yourselves Christians; if one half only of the Petitioners; instead of bustling about with ostentatious sensibility, were to leave off--not all the West-India commodities--but only Sugar and Rum, the one useless and the other pernicious--all this misery might be stopped. Gracious Heaven! At your meals you rise up, and pressing your hands to your bosoms, you lift up your eyes to God, and say, "O Lord! bless the food which thou hast given us!" A part of that food among most of you, is sweetened with Brother's Blood. "Lord! bless the food which thou hast given us?" O Blasphemy! Did God give food mingled with the blood of the Murdered? Will God bless the food which is polluted with the Blood of his own innocent children? Surely if the inspired Philanthropist of Galilee1 were to revisit Earth, and be among the Feasters as at Cana, he would not now change water into wine, but convert the produce into the things producing, the occasion into the things occasioned. Then with our fleshly eye should we behold what even how Imagination ought to paint to us; instead of conserves, tears and blood, and for music, groanings and the loud peals of the lash! There is observable among the Many a false and bastard sensibility that prompts them to remove those evils and those alone, which by hideous spectacle or clamorous outcry are present to their senses, and disturb their selfish enjoyments. Other miseries, though equally certain and far more horrible, they not 1 i.e., Jesus Christ; the first miracle recounted in the Gospel of John occurs when he turns water into wine to supply the guests attending a wedding feast. (See John 2:1-11)
only do not endeavor to remedy--they support, they fatten on them. Provided the dunghill be not before their parlour window, they are well content to know that it exists, and that it is the hot-bed of their pestilent luxuries.--To this grievous failing we must attribute the frequency of wars, and the continuance of the Slave-trade. The merchant finds no argument against it in his ledger: the citizens at the crouded feast is not nauseated by the stench and filth of the slave-vessel--the fine Lady's nerves are not shattered by the shrieks! She sips a beverage sweetened with human blood, even while she is weeping over the refined sorrows of Werter or of Clementina.2 Sensibility is not Benevolence. Nay, by making us tremblingly alive to trifling misfortunes, it frequently prevents it, and induces effeminate and cowardly selfishness. Our own sorrows, like the Princes of Hell in Milton's Pandemonium, sit enthroned "bulky and vast:" while the miseries of our fellow-creatures dwindle into pigmy forms, and are crouded, an innumerable multitude, into some dark corner of the heart.3 There is one criterion by which we may always distinguish benevolence from mere sensibility--Benevolence impels to action, and is accompanied by self-denial. 2 Werter is the hero of Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). Clementina is a suffering heroine in Samuel Richardson's SIR CHARLES Grandison (1753-54). For a similar satire--rather more playful--on how the culture of the fashionable novel encouraged a female readership to pride themselves on their sensibility, i.e., their emotional sensitivity, see Jane Austen, "Love and Friendship." 3 Coleridge remembers how in Book 1 of Paradise Lost the rank and file of Satan's followers must dwindle from "giant" to "pigmean" size so that they can all squeeze inside the palace of Pandemonium (lines 778- 780); meanwhile their leaders sit enthroned "in their own dimensions like themselves" (line 793).

ST Coleridge

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Author: ST Coleridge
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