The earliest unambiguously abolitionist poem, John Bicknell and Thomas Day’s The Dying Negro (1773–1775), unmistakably, if problematically, deploys the rhetoric of sensibility. Yet the sentimental strategies of The Dying Negro were not always emulated. Later abolitionist verse was often keen to reject false sensibility in a strategy seemingly designed to counter the attacks of proslavery apologists. There were other differences, of course, from the sentimental rhetoric that appeared in prose writing. Sentimental arguments in poetry are usually, but not always, presented more simplistically and with more confidence. Sentimental heroes have to be established more quickly and with greater economy of language. For this reason tears, sighs, and other indicators of sensibility appear more frequently. The poetic form has a natural tendency to simplify narrative and focus on single events and individuals. Accordingly, sentimental parables are less likely to be vignettes inserted into the narrative and more likely to form the whole subject of the poem. But where there are serious political points to be made in verse the technique of emotional subversion of the intellect comes rapidly into play. In the poetry of antislavery, emotions are quickly raised and the reader is encouraged to adopt political positions on the strength of those emotions.


False Sensibility Slave Trade Slave Owner Break Heart Poetic Form 
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  1. 3.
    Hannah More, Slavery, A Poem (London: T. Cadell, 1788), p. 106. A substantial extract is also available in James G. Basker, ed., Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems About Slavery, 1660–1810 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 335–41, although Basker erroneously calls the poem ‘The Slave Trade’ after the 1843 American edition of The Works of Hannah More which is his source. The full text of the poem is available online at <>.Google Scholar
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