The Poetics of Radical Abolitionism: Ann Yearsley’s Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade

Brycchan Carey, Kingston University London
Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring 2015), 89-105

This article re-examines Ann Yearsley’s Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade (1788) and argues that excessive attention to the relationship between Yearsley and her former patron Hannah More has obscured the extent to which Yearsley was working independently by 1788, albeit influenced by the burgeoning literature of antislavery. The article shows how interest in the Yearsley-More rivalry has been expressed in critical literature and biography from the 1930s to the present day, generally in the form of compare-and-contrast close readings of both poems in which Yearsley’s poetic vision is subordinated to More’s. It then provides a close reading of Yearsley’s poem to show how it is in dialogue with a range of antislavery verse, including poems by Thomas Chatterton, John Bicknell and Thomas Day, William Cowper, and William Roscoe. The article concludes with an assessment of More’s radical abolitionism and the suggestion that Yearsley’s influence, as well as her influences, be the subject of future study.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]