Bibliography of Poems on The Abolition of Slave Trade
A Bibliographical Analysis of Poems on the Abolition of Slave Trade
by Cristine Cruz
Starting a social justice movement is not a one-person job. Though it may start with a few passionate individuals, change is made when it is followed by many others who see its value and decide to act as well. It is often not achieved by one person’s big actions alone, but by the collective effort of many, whether it may be through big or small acts. Such is the case for the abolition of slave trade in England back in the 1800’s. Some noteworthy abolitionists are William Wilberforce, Granville Sharpe, and Thomas Clarkson. These three key individuals used their talents, skills, and status in society to advocate for the end of the slave trade. In 1809, to celebrate the Parliament’s passing of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, prominent publisher Robert Bowyer collected three epic poems for his creation of Poems on The Abolition of Slave Trade (including Wilberforce, Sharpe, and Clarkson’s portraits, and short biographies). This collection is not just any poetry collection. It is a major anti-slavery piece which includes poems from three different Philanthropic poets—James Montgomery, James Grahame, and Elizabeth Benger, and paintings by well-known artist Robert R. Smirke that are engraved by several different engravers. It was published by prominent printer Thomas Bensley and includes a dedication page to the Duke of Gloucester and Directors and Governors of the Society for Bettering the Conditions of The Natives of Africa.
The Physical Book
The book that I will be looking at in this essay is an 1809 copy of Poems on the Abolition of Slave Trade restored by British Columbian Hermit Priest, Reverend Charles Brandt. This copy was found in the Special Collections Department of W.A.C. Bennett Library at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia.
The pages are approximately 12 inches long and 9.5 inches wide, though some pages are several centimetres smaller, and the deckle has been trimmed off. This detail might have been done intentionally during restoration to indicate that those pages are not from the original copy. The restoration marking reads: “Restored: Anno Domini MCMLXIX by: Rev. Charles A.E. Brandt Hermit-Priest. R.R. 2, Courtenay, B.C., Can.” (fig. 1) This marking indicates that the restoration has been done in 1969. This date is well beyond the start of The Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam-driven printing press, therefore if the pages without deckles were reprinted for restoration, it would have cost less than when the book was first published. The
to re-printing these pages for restoration of the book would not have been as costly as printing pages back when the book was first published. The word “restored” has been crossed out and re-written as “screwed”. This did not seem to be a restoration jargon. I conclude that the word was simply vandalism by someone who did not appreciate the restorative work.
The board of the cover is a centimetre or two bigger than the largest page with deckles (fig. 2). Neither the board nor the spine are covered with leather. Only an inch long piece of leather embossed with the words “Poems on Slave Trade” is attached to the spine (fig. 2a). The board has “Bowyers Slavery” written on it in ink (fig. 2b). The size of the boards matches the indicated size on the Women’s Print History Project website 30 by 23 cm (approximately 12 by 9 inches) for the book. Therefore, the cover of this book is likely the original boards but without the leather binding. Fortunately, preserved on one of the unnumbered pages prior to the title page is a signature in pencil: “Inowest Jr. 1816 Lymington” (fig. 2c). Though the 1816 signer and owner of the book is unknown, there is an additional information that this copy is from the town of Lymington in Hampshire England.
There are no visible watermarks or chain lines on the pages to help with understanding the way the pages were folded. However, Bauman Rare Books is selling another 1809 copy of Poems on The Abolition of Slave Trade and the description indicates that it was done in Tall Quarto format (see fig. 3a).
The first rectos of every five leaves are signed with Uppercase letters A, all the way to T. These letters indicate that the pages were arranged in 5-leaf sections or 10-page gatherings. Though the pages are already marked, Bowyer pays special attention to detail by adding more specific and organised instructions for the Binder (fig. 3b). These meticulous instructions were crucial because of the complexity of the publication. The book boasts 10 copper engravings, 9 of which are arranged throughout the book as per Bowyer’s binding instructions, and one that comes before the title page. Copper engravings compared to woodcut-pressed images allow for transfer of more precise details (see fig. 4 for example). Its is time consuming, as well as more costly because copper is relatively soft and wears faster. Moreover, it’s an “additional investment in equipment” (Hansen) because it cannot be printed at the same time as the text.
The copper engravings indicate that the publication must have been well-financed. The pages also allow a generous 2.5-inch margin between the edge of the page and the text—2.5 inches of unused white space. Thus, the margins and the size of the book itself indicate that the book was well-financed.
The Paratextual elements of a book can convey a lot of useful information. It is especially important for studying books from the past. In Poems on the Abolition of Slave Trade (1809) for example, the fact that the book is printed by Thomas Bensley, demonstrates the significance of the book. The location of the publication is often important too because they demonstrate the publisher’s status in society. Thomas Bensley’s “premises extend[ed] from Bolt Court to Gough Square” (Isaac). The distance from Bolt Court to Gough Square is 400m; The size of his premises shows the affluence of the printer. In addition, he is not only wealthy, but was also “the secretary of the committee of London master printers” (Isaac) when the book was published. Unfortunately two years prior to the poetry collection’s publication, Bensley’s warehouse was burnt. It was truly a time of “financial pressure” (Isaac) not just for Bensley, because of the attempt by Napoleon’s army to disadvantage Britain economically during the Napoleonic Wars (Wikipedia). Yet the book was still published with paintings by famous painter Robert R. Smirke, copper engraved. The dedication indicates that the Duke of Gloucester is a “patron” of this book which might have helped in terms of financing its publication. In this book, the important paratextual elements include “The Argument” in front of each poem and the “Notes” after. For example, Elizabeth Benger’s lengthy argument introduces the topics that will be covered including Granville Sharpe as the “Father of the African cause” (Bowyer). The Notes, on the other hand, explain the lines in the poem; Note for Line 7 of Benger’s poem explains that Sharpe received this title because he was “elected chairman of the committee for the abolition” (Bowyer). These two elements give historical context for a better understanding of the poetry. The small details of publication can truly say a lot about the politics of a period, such as the author’s name written as “E. Benger”. Benger, a woman, and one that is not of high status in society, was included last in this collection despite her poem being written the earliest in 1806. The book does not inform the readers of Benger’s sex. In fact, by not writing out Benger’s first name, it appears her sex was intentionally hidden. I could not find information whether this was a choice by Benger herself, or not and why her poem was placed last. It’s important to note, also, that in praising her poem, a reviewer wrote in the Christian Observer magazine that the author of the poem must be “of the nobler sex” (Orlando). Finally, in “The Advertisement” Bowyer explains his intentions to “procure an honorable commemoration of that great legislative event” (Bowyer) that is The Slave Trade Act of 1807 that marked the beginning of abolition of Slave Trade in Britain.
Beyond The Slave Trade Act
Unfortunately, The Slave Trade Act of 1807 did not put an end to all acts of slavery. William Wilberforce appealed to the people of Britain and the members of the House of Common to end slavery by asserting that the “conditions experienced by slaves were … in direct opposition to … Christian Beliefs” (Bains). Parliament passed the act after the public attention Wilberforce and his agenda gained. However, even after imposing fines, “trafficking between Caribbean Islands would persist for several years” (Bains). The Slave Trade Felony Act which made slave trading a felony would not be passed until 1811. Quakers and Anglicans eventually come together to continue the Anti-Slavery movements yet, it was not until July 1833 that most British colonies would abolish slavery. Many people have come together to have these legislative acts passed in Parliament, just as many people came together to commemorate the first success in Bowyer’s collection. There was great value in this collection, and so its publication was made possible. Poems on the Abolition of Slave Trade (1809) though originally intended to simply commemorate the Slave Trade Act of 1807, must have been helpful for the push to completely abolish slavery. It’s detailed notes and the inclusion of well-known and high-status members of society would have likely helped generate more support for the movement. The book was republished again in 1978 by Donald H. Reiman. The book has also been digitized and full copies are easily accessible on the internet. Poems on the Abolition of Slave Trade and its Bibliographical elements are evidently windows into the past and an open-door for continues discourse on politics and slavery in the 1800’s.
Bains, Jessica. “The Abolition of Slavery in Britain.” Historic UK: History and Heritage Accomodation Guide, 12 June 2019, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Abolition-Of-Slavery/ Accessed Nov. 11, 2021
Montgomery, James. “Poems on the Abolition of the Slave Trade First Edition - Slavery.” Bauman Rare Books, https://www.baumanrarebooks.com/rare-books/slavery-montgomery-james/poems-on-the-abolition-of-the-slave-trade/118776.aspx. Accessed Nov. 22, 2021
Elizabeth Ogilvy Benger entry: Life and Writing Screen. (2006-2021). Orlando. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from http://orlando.cambridge.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/protected/svPeople?formname=r&people_tab=4&person_id=bengel&crumbtrail=on&heading=h&ls_bww=on&ls_iww=on&ls_mw=on&results_type=entries&subform=1&submit_type=A-Z
Fiske, Tina. "Smirke, Robert (1753–1845), painter and illustrator." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23. Oxford University Press. Date of access 10 Nov. 2021, https://www-oxforddnb-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-25762
Graham-Vernon, Deborah. "Bowyer, Robert (1758–1834), miniature painter and publisher." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23. Oxford University Press. Date of access 10 Nov. 2021, https://www-oxforddnb-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-3091
Hansen, Kelli & Bauer, Alora. “History of Writing & Westerd Dress (Part 3 of 3) – Printing Press: 15th to 18th Centuries.” YouTube, uploaded by Univesitgy of Missouri Libraries, 30 May 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PioUdrWZB90
Isaac, Peter. "Bensley, Thomas (bap. 1759, d. 1835), printer." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23. Oxford University Press. Date of access 12 Nov. 2021, https://www-oxforddnb-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-2136
“Napoleonic Wars.” Wikipedia, 9 November 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleonic_Wars
Poems on the Abolition of the Slave Trade; written by James Montgomery, James Grahame, and E. Benger. Embellished with engravings from pictures painted by R. Smirke, Esq. R.A. The Women's Print History Project, 2019, title ID 1234, https://womensprinthistoryproject.com/title/1234. Accessed Nov. 24, 2021
“The Anatomy of a Book: Format in the Hand-Press Period (1991).” YouTube, uploaded by Rare Book School, 18 December 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Efxddk09p0g&t=110s