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Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Friend of Lord MANSFIELD Visits Antigua in 1775

The following excerpts describing the thoughts of the "lady of quality", Miss Schaw, upon visiting Antigua between 1774-1776 (i.e., when JA was born) are of interest vis a vis Mansfield Park, ever since Margaret Kirkham was the first, in 1982, to point out that the title "Mansfield Park" was based in part on the life and famous anti-slavery case of Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of England when Jane Austen was born.

The second excerpt illustrates the kind of clueless benevolence of many white English people, who thought that any slave owner could be considered benevolent. Jane Austen satirized that very same absurd idea in the shadow story of Mansfield Park, in part by alluding to Maria Edgeworth's satire of benevolent slaveowning in a novella entitled (believe it or not) The Grateful Negro:

Journal of a lady of quality: being the narrative of a journey from Scotland

89: "....We dine this day in town, and to morrow go to Dr Dunbar's. We are much disappointed to find that Sir Ralph Payn and his Lady are not on the Island, but they are expected to be here by Christmas, as Lady Payn never misses her duty. She has a most amiable character, and is the idol of the whole people. I regret much not having the happiness to see her, as we are particularly recommended to the governor-general and her Ladyship by Lord Mansfield.

[fn: The Right Honorable William Lord Mansfield was the fourth son of David Murray, Viscount Stormont, and brother of the Mrs. Murray of Stormont mentioned later in the narrative (p. 247). He was born at Scone, educated at Perth, and formed part of that Scottish circle of intimates in which Miss Schaw moved. He is frequently referred to, here and elsewhere, as giving assistance of one kind or another to his Scottish friends. His judicial and parliamentary career is too well known to need comment.]

104: "We were next at the plantation of a Mr Malcolm, a near relation of Mr Rutherford's. This Gentleman was bred a physician, but has left off practice, and enjoys a comfortable estate in peace and quiet, without wife or children. But it is inconceivable how fond he was of these relations, whom he caressed as his children, loading them with every thing he had that was good. I shall say nothing of many other places, as I long to bring you acquainted with the most delightful character I have ever yet met with, that of Coll. Martin, the loved and revered father of Antigua, to whom it owes a thousand advantages, and whose age is yet daily employed
to render it more improved and happy. This is one of the oldest families on the Island, has for many generations enjoyed great power and riches, of which they have made the best use, living on their Estates, which are cultivated to the height by a large troop of healthy Negroes, who cheerfully perform the labour imposed on them by a kind and beneficent Master, not a harsh and unreasonable Tyrant. Well fed, well supported, they appear the subjects of a good prince, not the slaves of a planter.
The effect of this kindness is a daily increase of riches by the slaves born to him on his own plantation. He told me he had not bought in a slave for upwards of twenty years,
and that he had the morning of our arrival got the return of the state of his plantations, on which there then were no less than fifty two wenches who were pregnant. These slaves, born on the spot and used to the Climate, are by far the most valuable, and seldom take these disorders, by which such numbers are lost that many hundreds are forced yearly to be brought into the Island. END OF EXCERPT

Amazing and appalling all at once!

Cheers, ARNIE

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