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  1. Modern terms such as "liberal" and "conservative" or "progressive" and "reactionary" are not very useful for characterizing the politics of slavery in Restoration and eighteenth-century Britain. "Progressive" views might encourage slavery, as a means not only for building the national economy but also for bringing the virtues of enlightenment and Christianity to Africans — a view endorsed by Phillis Wheatley and Ignatius Sancho. "Conservatives" might object to the slave trade because its profits and global relocations created a new social order. Writers associated slavery with their own political problems.
    1. What political issues and cultural values seem most at stake in Restoration and eighteenth-century writings on slavery and the slave trade?
    2. Do the contradictions in the positions of John Locke and William Blackstone represent their confusion, or do they respond to some genuine conflict of values?
    3. Over the course of the eighteenth century, what changes do you perceive in assumptions about slavery?
  2. It is often said that slavery was founded on economics, not race. The word "slave" comes from "Slav" (in the Middle Ages, many Slavs were enslaved), and white slaves were not uncommon during the eighteenth century, especially in Muslim countries. But the trade in Africans gradually led to associating black people with slaves, as well as to theories of race which justified slavery by dwelling on the "natural" inferiority of blacks to whites?
    1. What signs of race and racism do you find in the works on this Web site? Is the enslavement of black Africans regarded merely as a business, or as a consequence of race? What sort of evidence seems most important to you in trying to answer such questions?
    2. Compare the representation of Africans in these works with Borde's sixteenth-century description of moors. How much of the eighteenth century's understanding of race is rooted in older prejudices?
  3. Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (NAEL 8, 1.2183) shows the horror of one slave's treatment without openly condemning the institution of slavery; the color of the hero's skin seems less important to Behn than his royal blood.
    1. Why might Behn have chosen the tale of an African prince to express her royalist views? What image of the slave trade does Oroonoko give, apart from the sufferings of its royal hero?
    2. Make a close comparison between Oroonoko's capture and transportation to slavery and accounts of the Middle Passage by John Newton and William Snelgrave. In what respects does Behn's version agree, and where does she deviate from these accounts?
    3. The abolitionist Hannah More, writing a century later, associates Oroonoko's sufferings with those of "millions." What does her poem suggest about changes in English society, and about the reception and reputation of Behn's text, in the century after it was written?
  4. Hannah More compares Africans to the ancient Romans, while Richard Savage links them to the Vandals who vanquished Rome; in Behn's Oroonoko, the prince is renamed "Caesar" and compared to Britain's ancient Picts (NAEL 8, 1.2183).
    1. What views of history and cultural progress lie behind these comparisons? How do they compare with the notion of a fixed racial hierarchy advanced by Hester Piozzi?
    2. Compare these texts with the opening of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (NAEL 8, 2.1890), which develops the analogy between Africans and the ancient inhabitants of Britain. Judging from his remarks on Conrad, how might Chinua Achebe respond to Behn and the abolitionist poets?
  5. What do writings by Africans such as Olaudah Equiano (NAEL , 1.2850), Phillis Wheatley, and Ignatius Sancho contribute to the political debate in Britain? Which aspects of their writing seem most crucial to this debate, and why?
  6. Read the exchange of letters between Ignatius Sancho and Laurence Sterne closely. Judging from how they address one another, how does each man regard the other? To what extent do they hold the same opinions about slavery? How might Sancho have responded to the passage from Tristram Shandy describing a "poor negro girl"?
  7. Eighteenth-century abolitionists opposed slavery on humanitarian grounds, as an institution which inflicted great suffering on its victims, and on philosophical grounds, as an affront to natural liberty. What elements of each argument do you find, and which seems most compelling in the works of the abolitionist poets More, Savage, and Cowper, of Olaudah (NAEL 8, 1.2850) and Ignatius Sancho, and of Locke, Blackstone, and Johnson (NAEL 8, 1.2849)?
  8. Information about Phillis Wheatley is available for exploration on the Web.
    1. To what extent is slavery a theme in Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773)? What images and terms does she employ to describe herself and her sense of mission?
    2. Wheatley was born in Africa, enslaved in New England, and published her one volume of poetry in Britain. To what "tradition" does Wheatley belong, or what challenges does she pose to the idea of tradition?
  9. Anna Laetitia Barbauld was an abolitionist poet, yet her Epistle to William Wilberforce counsels him to abandon the struggle for abolition.
    1. Why does Barbauld make this apparently paradoxical proposal? Does this make her poem more or less effective than those of the other abolitionist poets?
    2. Compare Barbauld's Epistle with her poem on The Rights of Women (NAEL 8, 2.35). What accounts for Barbauld's different approaches to the problems of slavery and women's rights? Do the two poems seem contradictory, or are they part of a coherent view of society?
  10. Annie Besant's White Slavery in London (1888) draws a comparison between slavery and the conditions of Victorian London's working poor. What is the basis for such a comparison? Does it seem to you to get at the heart of what is wrong about slavery, or does it trivialize the issue?
  11. Compare Olaudah Equiano's (NAEL 8, 1.2850) description of conditions on board slave ships with John Ruskin's appreciation of Turner's painting The Slave Ship (NAEL 8, 2.1321). To what extent, in Ruskin's view, does the power of this painting depend on its subject? Is there a conflict — for Ruskin and for you — between aesthetic appreciation and contemplation of what the painting depicts?

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