In a letter to Laurence Sterne written in 1766, Ignatius Sancho complained that ‘of all my favorite authors, not one has drawn a tear in favour of my miserable black brethren’.1 Sancho, an African, former slave, and at the time of writing, a butler to the Duke of Montagu, has been celebrated for his emulation of the Shandean idiom in his letters, posthumously published in 1782. In this letter, however, he moves beyond Shandyism to combine three important discourses of the late eighteenth century. With his emphasis on tears and misery, he is engaging with the fashionable literary discourse of his day, sensibility, to produce a recognisably sentimental mode of expression. With his demand for some sort of action on behalf of his enslaved fellow Africans, he is also engaging in a form of antislavery, the political movement that was to enter popular consciousness in varying degrees from the 1760s onwards. Finally, his language is the language of persuasion. This is a piece of rhetoric, written at a time when the discipline of rhetoric was being systematically reconceptualised. Sancho’s letter is more than merely imitatively Shandean: it is an important moment in the development of a sentimental rhetoric of antislavery.


Posit Arena Metaphor Verse Ethos 


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© Brycchan Carey 2005

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  • Brycchan Carey

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