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"NECROPHILISM" AND BRITISH NATIONALISM: THE SPECTACLE OF THE BLACK AMERICAN ABOLITIONIST AUDREY A. HSCH Jersey City State College The mother country, of late years, has signalized itself particularly in the great delight it has taken to avail itself of every opportunity to foster, and feed, and flatter, runaway American negroes. It has long been a standing joke, among the witty and satirical writers of England, their own countrymen's fondness for lions and lionizing, — a taste that has formed the theme of much deserved ridicule, and that has furnished a point to no little humour. Persians, with longbeards, — Turks, with long pipes — Chinese, with long tails, and North American Indians, with not very long blankets, are constantly succeeding one another in the salons, or at the tables of the haut ton, — one monster lion yielding place to the other, and, in time, receiving the delicate attentions of the fair, the services of the powerful, and the admiration of all. But throughout all this Britonnia [sic] is a little fickle in her fashions, and, having run from the delicate Chinese olive, down through the darked-hued Asiatic, and Turkish, and Moorish, and copper coloured Indian, she has lately discovered, in the indulgence of her singular taste, that in this matter of complexion, — "in this deepest deep, a deeper still" of hue. Nothing goes down, now, with her, so well as the genuine black. (From The New York Express qtd. in The Anti-Slavery Standard My 1, 1847)' It might seem surprising to begin a discussion of the presence of black American abolitionists in England with such an exaggerated and ungenerous parody of that presence. Yet this bombastic notice, entitled "English negrophilism" and published in The New York Express, reveals the ideological work the black American abolitionist campaign Victorian Review 19.2 (Winter 1993) AUDREY A. FISCH21 performed in England as the British public made sense out of the presence of "genuine" black visitors. Leaving aside the American writer's racism and xenophobia, The New York Express here correctly identifies the mid-Victorian obsession with "monster lions,"2 "exotic" Others of different "hues," "complexions," and "shades."3 American blacks formed part of a string of non-white Others, each paraded in its turn in front of the British public as an exotic spectacle. This spectacle of exoticism formed a part of Britain's own nationalist self-definition in the mid-century. England's fascination with "exoticism," as Jonathan Arac and Harriet Ritvo write, "is the aestheticizing means by which the pain of [the expansion of nationality] is converted to spectacle, to culture in the service of empire" (3). The demand for and popularity of this spectacle of American blacks throughout England was immense.4 As die writer at The New York Express puts it, The metropolis literally swarms with the race. All the public places are as vocal with them as a growing cornfield with crows, or a patch of barley with blackbirds. "Ethiopians of every shade are so greatly in vogue, that the whites — men, and women, too! — are colouring their faces and hands, and going about London imitating their sable visitors, who, however, being the genuine thing, are bringing of their pockets full of money, the proof of John Bull's enlarged negrophilism. This is not all rhetoric or exaggeration; the writer here accurately describes the extent of the British penchant for black Americans. This obsession (and the hope for "pockets full of money") seems to have induced white itinerant street musicians and white mendicants to "black-up."5 Moreover, the British penchant for the "genuine" black extended beyond the street and the music hall to "respectable" antislavery gatherings. The "attraction of rubbing shoulders with the black American abolitionists" made black speakers "essential" at British antislavery gatherings (Ripley 18). Amid its discussion of British "negrophilism," The New York Express, not surprisingly, gives scant attention to the activities of the "swarms" of black Americans in England. C. Peter Ripley, in his introduction to The Black Abolitionist Papers, provides some of the information about these visitors lacking in The New York Express. Between 1830 and 186S, black abolitionists left universities, newspaper offices, cabinet shops, pulpits, and plantations for the British Isles___ After...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 20-47
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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