Colonial Vices and Metropolitan Corrections: Satire and Slavery in the Early Caribbean
This chapter examines a wide range of satirical approaches to the early Caribbean and in particular to slavery in the islands. It argues that eighteenth-century satirists who represented the Caribbean increasingly saw the region as a location of vice that stood in need of correction, and that as the eighteenth century progressed, the chief iniquities they calumniated were slavery and the slave trade. Thus, satirists became as much a part of the literary proto-abolitionist movement as did the sentimental poets and novelists whose work has been more intensively studied. The chapter suggests that early Caribbean satirical literature can provisionally be organized into four categories: “Occasional Asides,” “Satirical Voyage Narratives,” “London Caribbean Tales,” and “Abolitionist Satires.” To support this, it focuses on asides by John Dryden, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and others; satirical voyages by Ned Ward, Swift, and the anonymous authors of A Voyage to Cacklogallinia and The Adventures of Jonathan Corncob; London tales by Richard Steele, John Wolcot, and Richard Cumberland; and abolitionist satires by Laurence Sterne, Thomas Day, and William Cowper. The chapter concludes that while the majority of early satirical representations of the West Indies were in fact composed in Europe, satires reveal that the region was a subject of lively debate, emerging stereotypes, metropolitan snobbishness, and finally a deep-seated anxiety about the cruelty of slavery.