Slavery and Colonialism: Romantic vs. Imperialist

“Eighteen Hundred and Eleven” reflects Anna Barbauld’s recognition and reaction to some of the imperialistic views of The Enlightenment Period  seen in works such as Daniel  Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Eighteen Hundred and Eleven” reflects Anna Barbauld’s recognition and reaction to some of the imperialistic views of The Enlightenment Period  seen in works such as Daniel  Defoe’s. The contrasting views on slavery and colonialism are two of these imperialistic views seen through the comparison of these two works.  In Defoe’s work, slavery is presented as an acceptable reality of the times. Defoe transitions Crusoe from “trading with the negroes”  to the trading of negroes, “how easy it was to purchase upon the coast… negroes, for the service of the Brazils”, without moral issue (Defoe). Anna Barbauld, on the other hand, demonstrates support for the abolitionist work of Thomas Clarkson whom she calls a “friend of man” (143).She also shows pride in London’s “Streets, where the turbaned Moslem, bearded Jew/And wooly Afric, met the brown Hindu” (Barbauld 165-166). Through “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven” Barbauld also shows her fearful reaction to colonialism and the disruption of nature. She expresses a fear that South America and its many natural beauties and resources will not be able to resist or withstand the “mass of misery” of colonialism’s “broad hand” (Barbauld 320, 328) Defoe, however, does not express any resistance to colonialism but rather shows it  support through the success and pleasure Crusoe displays in his plantation in the Brazils. These differences in the writings of Barbauld and Defoe highlight just a couple of the alternatinf views between the Enlightenment Period and the Romantic Period.

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3 thoughts on “Slavery and Colonialism: Romantic vs. Imperialist

  1. Your point on the varying opinions of slavery is very interesting! I especially like how you bring up Barbauld’s apparent pride in the various races and religions one could find walking through the street of London, in opposition to Defoe’s nonchalance when speaking about African slaves. According to those who praised the Enlightenment, the time of Defoe’s writing, that era was a time of increased liberty and blossoming equality among men. Because of these new ideals, one might assume that a decline in the acceptance of slavery would also occur. This, then, creates a contradiction. Defoe’s era of apparent equality allows for slavery, while Barbauld’s era, a time that reacted against the ideals of the Enlightenment, considers slavery an evil institution and ethnic diversity something to be desired.

  2. I like the disconnect you present in “went from trading with Negroes to trading Negroes.” It shows the feelings of the times on the subject and the disconnect they had in seeing slaves as just another tool. Then comparing this to the abolition movements that came as a result of a different period.

  3. All very good observations here. Let’s keep in mind, though, that Barbauld is still writing at a time, in 1811-1812, when slavery was still accepted by the majority of the populace. She is very much going against the grain in applauding Clarkson. Your connection of Crusoe’s plantation in Brazil with Barbauld’s ending the poem with several allusions to anti-colonial resistance in South America is a nice bridge between these two works that I hadn’t noticed before.

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