Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

De Quincey and the King of Hayti

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

De Quincey and the King of Hayti

Article excerpt

"The King of Hayti," Thomas De Quincey's translation Friedrich Laun 's "Der Mohrenkonig" (1819), appeared in the London Magazine (November, 1823). Laun, pseudonym for Friedrich August Schulze, was popular for his satirical tales of middle-class manners, several of which De Quincey translated in 1823 and 1824. (1) Following a reign of thirteen years, Henri Christophe, the King of Hayti, committed suicide in October, 1820, and his son and heir was assassinated ten days later. In "Der Mohrenkonig," written while Christophe still reigned, Latin responded to the widespread controversy over "Haitian nobility." De Quincey's choice of the tale was prompted by the Parliamentary Resolutions, May 15, 1823, which called for measures to be taken to meliorate the condition of the slave population of the British Colonies, in order to raise them to "a participation in those civil rights and privileges which are enjoyed by other classes of His Majesty's subjects." If the slaves were to be liberated, so it was reasoned, they would need to be educated in the "civil rights and privileges" of British citizenry.

De Quincey converted the names and altered elements in Laun's tale in order to render it pertinent to the abolitionist movement in England. Aware that Henri Christophe, as well as William Wordsworth, had both corresponded with the abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson, De Quincey introduced William Wordsworth lightly disguised as the recently deceased "stamp-distributor Goodchild," who may, or may not, have an uncanny physiognomical resemblance to Henri Christophe. In the comic context of this tale, racial prejudice is mocked and ridiculed, and the satire reflected almost allegorically the legal protection of the plantations and maintaining the lucrative colonial revenue, in spite of popular opposition to slavery.

Just as in "The King of Hayti" De Quincey responded to the Parliamentary Resolutions of 1823 (see: Thoughts on the Projected Abolition of Negro Slavery, 1823; Considerations on Negro slavery, 1824), five years later, in his two-part essay, "West India Property" (June 14, 28, 1828). De Quincey offered a rebuttal to the accusations raised at the meeting of Edinburgh's Anti-Slavery Society on June 5, 1828. Al this meeting, resolutions were passed to be submitted together with a petition to Parliament calling for prompt action. The plantation owners were charged with resisting and forestalling all efforts at change. Citing the rebellion in Santo Domingo as an example of the tragic consequences of a rash and rapid change followed by Napoleon's unwise effort to reverse French policy, De Quincey argued that change was indeed taking place in the condition of the slaves of Jamaica, the Barbados, and other islands of the West Indies. His sympathies, however, were for the plantation owners and slaveholders, rather than for the slaves, In his two-part essay, "West India Properly," he upheld the argument of the colonists concerning loss of income and property, and he advocated a gradual process of liberation.

De Quincey's arguments on "West India Property" elaborated the very objections that contributed to the long delay between the ACT for the ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE THAT WAS PASSED IN Parliament in 1807 and the Slave it Abolition Act of 1833. Although the act to end the slave trade passed with an overwhelming majority (283 votes in favor; 16 against), the slave-trade was still pursued by ships of other nations, and even by British ships, whose Captains would order the cargo of slaves to be dumped overboard if they were approached by Navy ships. When Parliament finally passed an act abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire, it was compromised by notable exceptions to protect the economy of Britain's largest investments. Slavery was allowed to continue in "Territories in the Possession of the East India Company," the "Island of Ceylon," and "the Island of Saint Helena." These exceptions were not eliminated until 1843. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.