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'More's polish'd muse, or Yearsley's muse of fire' : bitter enemies write the Abolition Movement

Andrews, Kerri (2009) 'More's polish'd muse, or Yearsley's muse of fire' : bitter enemies write the Abolition Movement. European Romantic Review, 20 (1). pp. 21-36. ISSN 1050-9585

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Abstract

1788 saw the first legislative victory for the campaign to abolish the British slave trade. Writing as part of a wider movement to generate support for the Bill about to go through parliament, both Hannah More and Ann Yearsley published poetry describing the horrors of slavery. However, this paper will argue that what lay behind More and Yearsley's decision to become involved with the campaign was an intense and bitter rivalry, the consequence of their failed patronage relationship. The essay will argue that a rivalry between the two was known to exist, and that the two poems published by More and Yearsley in 1788 were seen partially in terms of that rivalry. In order to demonstrate this the essay will discuss a previously unknown poem by Yearsley's friend and patron Eliza Dawson which directly compares Yearsley with More. Their poems, Slavery: A Poem and A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade are then discussed in detail in order to suggest that at their hearts is not a concern for the African slaves they are nominally supposed to be helping, but a fiercely contested poetic battle to determine who has the right to speak for the city of Bristol.