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Decolonising Wordsworth?

Updated: Aug 30, 2020

It comes as a shock of some magnitude

To discover that the pantheistic

Genius of William Wordsworth

(With a sonnet to Toussaint Louverture,

And friendship with Thomas Clarkson too),

Was to some early degree fostered by

The philanthropy of John Pinney,

Bristol owner of sugar plantations

And enslaved peoples in the West Indies.

Wordsworth stayed gratis in Pinney’s Dorset house,

While he trod that poetical pathway

That would lead to the Lyrical Ballads;

Wordsworth might write in The Prelude

Of how he grew up fostered alike

By both beauty and also by fear,

But it comes as a shock of some magnitude,

To discover that his early writing

Was fostered in a way by slavery.

John Pinney:

‘Since my arrival I have purchased 9 negroe slaves at St Kitts and can assure you I was shocked at the first appearance of human flesh for sale. But surely God ordained them for ye use and benefit of us, otherwise his Divine will would have been made manifest by some particular sign or token.’

&

‘It is as impossible for a man to make sugar without the assistance of negroes as to make bricks without straw.’

Lyrical Ballads no longer seem quite so lyrical.

Written after reading Jonathan Bate’s wonderful biography, Radical Wordsworth, The Poet Who Changed The World


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