2 More and Yearsley as abolitionist’s
3 The comparison of the two poems
The issue of slavery can be considered to be of great importance during the 18th and 19th century in Great Britain.
Since the 1770s there has been the formation of an abolitionist movement because rational thinkers of the Enlightenment criticized it for violating the rights of man and furthermore for being heresy.
In 1790 the first abolition bill was presented to parliament, but it did not pass and it needed another 43 years until the abolition of slavery in the British Territories could be called a success.
Especially women started to engage themselves in the abolitionist movement and tried to change the situation with means of sensibility and empathy. Therefore, I chose to analyze two poems by two very popular female anti- slavery writers, Anne Yearsley’s A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave- Trade (1788) and Hannah More’s The Sorrows of Yamba or the Negro Woman ’ s Lamentation (1795) to show the perspective of a woman on slavery. The seminar "Romantic Women Writers" serves as a basis for this paper. I will start with an outlook on the involvement of the two women in the anti- slavery discourse, show briefly what there lives were like, through what they were shaped and influenced and what their reasons were to act against slav- ery. In the main part I will focus on the two poems and compare them with regards to similarities and differences. Both poems tell a story about a slave and his or her life in captivity. There is on the one hand the story of Yamba in Hannah More’s poem and on the other hand the story of Luco in the poem of Ann Yearsley. I chose this as a starting point for my analysis. For that, I will briefly look at the fictional characters Yamba and Luco to find out in how far they either resemble each other or differ from each other. Furthermore, I will analyze how Hannah More and Ann Yearsley use their means of sensibility and empathy and afterwards show the biggest contrasts of the two poems. Finally, I will summarize and evaluate my results in form of a conclusion.
2 More and Yearsley as abolitionist’s
Women, such as Hannah More (1745-1833) and Ann Yearsley (1753-1806) started to engage in the campaign against slavery from its beginning and "were gradually able to move from the private into the political arena" (bbc 1). They subscribed to Abolition Societies and " [i]n 1833 anti-slavery petitions bore the signatures of 298,785 women"(bbc 2).
As a member of the so called Clapham Sect, a group of conservative evan- gelicals, Hannah More was deeply involved in the abolition discourse. She published several works where she pointed out her strict rejection against slav- ery. One of these works is the poem The Sorrows of Yamba or the Negro Woman ’ s Lamentation (1795) which mirrors her religious beliefs, namely that the "conversion of Africans could become a reality" (Subject to Others 154). In the next section this poem will be analyzed in greater detail.
Hannah More was born near Bristol, a city well known for its fight against slavery, and she received a very good education in French, Latin and Mathe- matics by her father, a schoolmaster. She began writing at an early age, for instance pastoral plays and had associated herself with London’s literary elite a short time later. She was even invited by the Abolition Committee to write a didactic poem (Slavery: A Poem (1788)), which brought her public attention. In contrast to More, Ann Yearsley is a working class writer. Her intention was to make everybody understand her argumentation, not only the political and literary elite. A reason for this is her comparatively low level of education. She was taught to read and write by her family members and began her working life as a milkwoman, where her nickname Lactilla derives from.
As a hard working mother and wife, Ann Yearsley spent the following years de- veloping her writing skills and thereby, came into contact with Hannah More. She became aware of her abilities as a writer and poet and commenced to publish Yearsley’s works. Through More, she gained fame and fortune. Although both women led different lifes, they had a common goal: To abolish slavery.
I would like to shed a light on the reasons for their dedication:
Fist of all, "[t]he female heart, it appears, experiences ’the delicate sensibili- ties of the tender passion, in a degree of refinement of which a rougher sex is seldom capable’" (Ferguson 5). In other words, this meant women feel they are by nature morally superior and therefore more able to combat the system of slavery because they feel sympathy for the victims.
With that they sought to draw attention to the suffering of African Americans, because they wanted their readers to see "that it was a system of sexual as well as racial exploitation and oppression" (Sisterhood 16). Raping and destruction of families were the order of the day.
Women had a strong commitment to charity. Hannah More, for example, set up 12 schools where reading the Bible was taught to local children. Visiting the poor, nursing the sick and teaching others were respectable activities for women, and now they also felt responsible for the poor creatures that are being tortured. Consequently, their intention was to evoke piety. So it is no wonder that the following motifs occur repeatedly in poems about slavery: " a disgusted incredulity at human bondage, split families, atrocities, unchristian traders,..., and appeals to philanthropy or ’social love’" (Ferguson 7). The motto of this time was ’Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?’, which be- came a "rallying cry for female anti-slavery" (Sisterhood 19) in Britain. This is supposed to make clear that the women, no matter what color, have certain things in common, such as a "shared experience of motherhood" (Sisterhood 20). They feel the same, have the same duties to fulfill and therefore, should be treated equally.
Although Hannah More and Ann Yearsley, as women, had a very different way of fighting the issue of slavery than men of their time had, they nevertheless helped that the Abolition Act was passed in 1834 and with that also supported the beginning of a new era of liberty and equality in Britain.