Slavery and Augustan Literature: Swift, Pope, Gay

By John Richardson | Go to book overview

4

Writing the peace

The geography of the peace

The previous two chapters have sought to establish a context. Chapter 2 argues that attitudes towards slavery in early eighteenth-century England, though varied, were not simply complacent, but were marked by a desire to avoid unpleasant knowledge. Chapter 3 traces some of the connections among members of the Scriblerus Club, and between them and the Tory peace. With these contexts established, it is possible now to consider texts. This chapter examines a number of writings associated with the peace, and the ways in which their promotion of the peace involves and exposes attitudes towards slavery. It begins with the geography implied in the name of the South Sea Company, in a number of peace poems and in Windsor-Forest. Both the company’s name and most of the poems omit reference to the parts of the world in which the transatlantic slave trade took place, and in doing so, they avoid confronting the trade itself. This avoidance is consonant with some of the attitudes discussed in chapter 2. A similar kind of avoidance can be seen more broadly in what might be called the controlling rhetorical mood of Swift’s Tory pamphlets, and in the very different mood of the Tory peace poems. In both cases the rhetoric, as far as it is possible to tell, seems to be internalized, that is, it seems to be a rhetoric which acts upon writer and reader alike. Windsor-Forest is the partial exception since the unevenness of that poem suggests Pope may not quite have convinced himself of the benign nature of the Treaty of Utrecht. Before moving on to that, however, the geography of the peace provides an illuminating case study of one way in which those promoting the peace obscured its nature.

The name of the South Sea Company, like those of other commercial enterprises, presents the business as favourably as possible. The company was given a title to echo that of the East India Company, a great precursor trading organization, and to evoke the romantic associations of the South Seas. However, there is euphemism as well as promotion at work here for the name goes beyond glamorizing the company’s trade and hides the major part of it.

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Slavery and Augustan Literature: Swift, Pope, Gay
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • References and Short Titles xi
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The English and Slavery 13
  • 3 - The Scriblerus Club 39
  • 4 - Writing the Peace 63
  • 5 - Pope 89
  • 7 - Gay 109
  • 7 - Swift 121
  • 8 - Conclusion 147
  • Notes 153
  • Bibliography 173
  • Index 183
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