ON THE SLAVE TRADE
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Watchman, 25 March 1796
Whence arise our Miseries? Whence arise our Vices? From imaginary Wants. No man is wicked without temptation, no man is wretched without a cause. But if each among us conﬁned his wishes to the actual necessaries and real comforts of Life, we should preclude all the causes of Complaint and all the motives to Iniquity . . .
And indeed the evils arising from the formation of imaginary Wants, have in no instance been so dreadfully exempliﬁed, as in this inhuman Traffic. We receive from the West-India Islands Sugars, Rum, Cotton, Logwood, Cocoa, Coffee, Pimento, Ginger, Indigo, Mahogany, and Conserves. Not one of these articles are necessary; indeed with the exception of Cotton and Mahogany we cannot truly call them even useful: and not one of them is at present attainable by the poor and labouring part of Society. In return we export vast quantities of necessary Tools, Raiment, and defensive Weapons, with great stores of Pro- vision. So that in this Trade as in most others the Poor are employed with unceasing toil ﬁrst to raise, and then to send away the Comforts, which they them- selves absolutely want, in order to procure idle superﬂuities for their Masters. If this Trade had never existed, no one human being would have been less comfortably cloathed, housed, or nourished.
Samuel’s marriage to Sara improved in the sequestered honeymoon cottage, but his drive to social activism compelled him back to the fray. He moved to Bristol, the heart of the slave trade, and found again his revolutionary voice. Emboldened by his like-minded colleagues, he established a journal as the forum for evangelizing his message.
Malcolm Guite writes:
It was also in Bristol that he found the friend and publisher Joseph Cottle, who would eventually publish not only the ﬁrst volume of Coleridge’s own poetry but also The Lyrical Ballads, the book Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote together and published anonymously, and which is now seen as the real beginning and founding of the Romantic Movement in English poetry.
“Science, Freedom & The Truth in Christ” was in fact the motto for Coleridge’s new journal, The Watchman, a heroic but ultimately unsuccessful venture, in which he ﬁrst showed the astonishing bursts of energy and hard work of which his supposedly indolent nature was always capable. The journal may well have done a great deal of good in raising consciousness, in urging boycotts of those imports such as sugar and rum, tainted and stained with the blood of slaves. It was also very important that in The Watchman Coleridge showed time and again that slavery was entirely contrary to the spirit and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. This needed to be said very clearly because at this time almost all the bishops of the Established Church were voting against Wilberforce’s attempts to abolish slavery.
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In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.