Monday, July 29, 2013

Lawrence Sterne on race

In 1766, at the height of the debate about slavery, Ignatius Sancho wrote to Laurence Sterne [19] encouraging the famous writer to use his pen to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade.[20]
"That subject, handled in your striking manner, would ease the yoke (perhaps) of many - but if only one - Gracious God! - what a feast to a benevolent heart!"
In July, 1766 Sancho's letter was received by Reverend Laurence Sterne shortly after he had just finished writing a conversation between his fictional characters Corporal Trim and his brother Tom in Tristram Shandy wherein Tom described the oppression of a black servant in a sausage shop in Lisbon which he had visited.[21] Laurence Sterne's widely publicized 27 July 1766 response to Sancho's letter, became an integral part of 18th century abolitionist literature.
"There is a strange coincidence, Sancho, in the little events (as well as in the great ones) of this world: for I had been writing a tender tale of the sorrows of a friendless poor negro-girl, and my eyes had scarce done smarting with it, when your letter of recommendation in behalf of so many of her brethren and sisters, came to me — but why her brethren? — or yours, Sancho! any more than mine? It is by the finest tints, and most insensible gradations, that nature descends from the fairest face about St. James’s, to the sootiest complexion in Africa: at which tint of these, is it, that the ties of blood are to cease? and how many shades must we descend lower still in the scale, ’ere mercy is to vanish with them?—but ’tis no uncommon thing, my good Sancho, for one half of the world to use the other half of it like brutes, & then endeavor to make ’em so." [21]