By Ian Haywood
This booklet is the 1st entire research of the topic of astonishing violence in British Romantic literature and print tradition. It appears to be like on the influence and impact of a chain of catastrophically violent occasions: the transatlantic slave alternate; the yankee struggle of Independence and the 'Indian' challenge; the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars; the Irish uprising of 1798; and a chain of riots and 'disturbances' stretching from the Gordon riots of 1780 to the Reform invoice riots of 1831.
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Extra info for Bloody Romanticism: Spectacular Violence and the Politics of Representation, 1776-1832
The poem specifically denies that the unredeemed slave can be dignified with the status of a martyr. Though the violent means of death is an emotive parallel, ‘No martyr’s blissful visions soothe his pains’ (l. 228). The real question mark hangs over the precarious spiritual integrity of the European. The poem resorts to strenuous ‘Fancy’ as More imagines the descent of the Evangelical cherub Mercy, whose ‘generous influence steals / Till every breast the soft contagion feels’ (ll. 313–14). It is Mercy, not political reform, which ‘Breathes manumission o’er the rescued land’ of Africa (l.
This process is described vividly by Anna Barbauld in a poem which attacked the rejection of the abolition bill by the House of Lords in April 1792: The preacher, poet, senator, in vain Has rattled in [Britain’s] sight the Negro’s chain, With his deep groans assailed her startled ear And rent the veil that hid his constant tear, Forced her averted eyes his stripes to scan, Beneath the bloody scourge laid bare the man (ll. 3–8)32 Lines of poetry, like the ‘stripes’ on the slave’s body, will only ‘scan’ if ‘bloody’ reality is ‘forced’ upon the reader.
Stedman’s rebellious slaves are a ‘savage people, habituated to the barbarities of Africa’. They are associated with darkness and wildness (again, there may be a literary trace here of Caliban, the ‘thing of darkness’). The slaves assemble during the night, and launch their attack upon ‘the peaceful and unsuspicious planters, like so many famished tygers thirsting for human blood’. Their victims share the same virtues of powerlessness, innocence or vulnerability: ‘the old and young, the matron, the virgin, and the helpless infant’ (63).