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Like many abolitionists, Hannah More built her philosophy on a firm foundation of religion and spiritual thought. Her poems "Sensibility" and "The Slave Trade" present imagery related to spiritual concepts and ideals that she uses to persuade a sensible Christian audience against the slave trade. More crafts her abolitionist poetry around philosophical ideals as well as spiritual ones, and the poet appeals to reason as much as to emotion. In her poem "Sensibility: An Epistle to the Honourable Mrs. Boscawen," More emphatically elevates sensibility above religiosity: "if RELIGION'S bias rule the soul, / Then SENSIBILITY exalts the whole," (353-4). More elaborates on the theme of distorted religion throughout "The Slave Trade," by accusing proponents of slavery of arrogance, "insulted reason," and "natural evils," (141; 156). However, More's argument is rooted in sensibility, that elusive quality that, like God, cannot be defined. More describes sensibility like she would describe God: "Sweet SENSIBILITY! Thou secret pow'r / shedd'st thy gifts upon the natal hour," (231-232). In "The Slave Trade" More describes LIBERTY in similar terms, as a "light" to "shine on all," (2). Thus, More likens SENSIBILITY to LIBERTY. Liberty, like sensibility, resembles God as a "penetrating essence," (6). The elusive natures of both sensibility and liberty also make the concepts similar to God. For example, in her ode to sensitivity, the poet states, "Thy subtle essence still eludes the chains / Of definition," (235-236). By drawing connections between freedom, reason, and religion in "The Slave Trade," More suggests that slavery exists in the absence of God and in the absence of sensibility.
Liberty and sensibility are God-given qualities, spiritual essences that grace human beings on Earth. The first stanza of "The Slave Trade" describes LIBERTY as a heavenly emanation, a "bright intellectual sun," with "subtle and ethereal beams," (3; 8). The solar imagery used to describe freedom continues in Stanza 2: "Was it decreed, fair Freedom! At thy birth, / That thou shou'd'st ne'er irradiate all the earth?" From here, More asks a "sober Goddess" why such a glorious solar light, a heavenly quality like the sun, would not shine on the whole planet. Liberty, More notices, applies only to parts of God's creation, and has overlooked Africa and the African people. More finds her answer in the "mad Misrule" of the slaveholder (24). Slavery is a distortion of the divine by oppressive human beings.
Liberty and sensibility are heavenly, God-given concepts. Therefore, any absence of liberty and sensibility implies the absence of God. Throughout "The Slave Trade," More describes slavery an affront to divine nature, by alluding to the ways slave owners use Christianity to back up their oppressive practice. More notes that the institution of slavery has been paradoxically perpetrated by Christians and justified in the name of God. To emphasize the sacrilegious nature of slavery, More evokes horrific imagery in Stanza 8. The poet describes burning villages, shrieking babies, and distressed mothers and accuses the perpetrators of "murder." These brutal acts were committed in the name of God but embody the absence of true spirituality. Rather, they represent "the basest appetite of basest souls," (128).
In "The Slave Trade," More repeatedly disparages the distorted belief that God condones the institution of slavery. For example, the poet shows how slavery represents a distortion of God's word: "To tread on grave Authority and Pow'r, / And shake the work of ages in an hour," (29-30). In other words, by holding people captive, slave owners undo centuries of human intellectual and spiritual progress. Next, More suggests that the philosophies used to justify slavery are in themselves erroneous: "Perish the proud philosophy, which sought / To rob them of the pow'rs of equal thought!" Any "proud philosophy" that promotes social inequity is irreligious as well as insensible. Such a philosophy is inherently arrogant, indicative of "A high, unbroken haughtiness of heart," (78).
Later, More evokes the Quakers to denote the ideal examples of Christian ideals. As early opponents of slavery, the Quakers epitomize the opposite of the aforementioned arrogance: "Still thy meek spirit in thy flock survives, / Consistent still, their doctrines rule their lives," (247-248). Here, More describes the Quakers with terms like "meek" to emphasize the importance of humility over arrogance. In spite of, or probably because of, their meekness, Quakers allow the essence of the Christian doctrine to "rule their lives," not a distorted doctrine as a…[continue]
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