Slavery and Augustan Literature: Swift, Pope, Gay

By John Richardson | Go to book overview

5

Pope

Pope and Cato

The growing rifts in the Tory ministry in the first half of 1714 and Queen Anne’s death in August that year marked the end of the Scriblerus Club, and of the contact of Swift, Pope and Gay with government. These events also marked the end of the writers’ most direct involvement, through support of the peace and friendship with ministers, with slavery. Thereafter, all owned shares in the South Sea Company, and Gay and (to a lesser extent) Pope were patronized by the Duke of Chandos. 1 As noted in chapter 2, the duke was so active in the Royal African Company’s business that some observers credited him with its revival. So, some link however tenuous with the slave trade remained. But the days were over when the three writers would frequently meet with, and proselytize for, members of a ministry that was attempting to develop this section of the national economy. How significant an impact the period had on later attitudes and later work cannot be ascertained with any certainty. Slavery remains an important, perhaps even a central, element in the later writings of all three, as this second part of this book aims to show, but it is hard to judge whether the causes for its inclusion lie back in the days of contact with the Tory ministry. My intuition is that the years between 1710 and 1714 exerted a more powerful influence over Swift’s later life and writing than over those of the other two, and the influence probably extended to his attitudes towards slavery. However, the point of these chapters is not to establish definite cause and effect. I want, rather, to locate references to slavery in the later work, to identify slavery’s place in a group of ideas about freedom, virtue and identity, and to define implicit attitudes towards it.

Although the later references to slavery are in some respects different in the three writers, they share a common characteristic. With Pope, references are usually distant, taking the form of assertions of heroically achieved personal freedom, alongside representations of the unheroically unfree, often referred to metaphorically as ‘slaves’. Swift, too, uses ‘slave’ as a metaphor in his Irish writings, but for more immediate polemical purposes, and in A Modest Proposal

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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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