London: Printed for T. Cadell, in the Strand, 1788. First Edition. An excellent copy of this exceptionally rare abolitionist work. Quarter calf with marbled boards; text block is tight and internally clean, with only occasional mild foxing not affecting text. Slavery: A Poem has not appeared at auction since 1956, and according to OCLC the only known copy in an institution is housed at the British Library.
Hannah More, one of the leading activists of her time, firmly believed in applying education to improve the lives of women and minorities. Composed to support William Wilberforce's parliamentary campaign for abolition, her poem Slavery was read aloud at rallies and meetings, and its use of sound was designed to strike at its audience mentally and emotionally, encouraging listeners to question the importance of skin color. Drawing on religious doctrines and political philosophy, she urged listeners to consider the illogic of their own racism; and she powerfully blended these arguments into a tragic narrative depicting a female slave being torn from her children. "Does then th' immortal principle within Change with the casual colour of a skin? Does matter govern spirit? or is mind Degraded by the form to which tis join'd? No: they have heads to think, and hearts to feel, And souls to act with firm, tho' erring zeal; For they have keen affections, kind desires, Love strong as death, and active patriot fires." The Broadview Anthology suggests that More's poem was widely read among abolitionists, and in its own time it was considered successful for its ability to "force pro-slavery readers to re-evaluate their own perspectives" (Black). An important and rare piece of early literature illustrating the critical intersections among race and gender. Fine (Item #2168)