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Qteform Ideology andÇeneric Structure in Matt Hew Lewis's JournaC of a West India (Proprietor ELLEN MALENAS He said that kindness was the only way to make good negroes, and that, if that failed, flogging would never succeed; and he advised me, when I found my negro worthless, 'to sell him at once, and not stay to flog him, and so, by spoiling his appearance, make him sell for less; for blacks must not be treated now, massa, as they used to be; they can think, and hear, and see, as well as white people: blacks are wiser, massa, than they were, and will soon be wiser. ' I thought this fellow himself was a good proof of his assertion.1 The advice transcribed above is from a slave waterman to Matthew Lewis. Its rhetorical virtuosity in blending threat and submission distills in this one small moment the most salient issues, economic and moral survival, explored in the Journal of a West India Proprietor. The text is primarily concerned with consciously promoting a reform agenda that attempts to mitigate suffering and cruelty on plantations while maintaining the institution of slavery. The Journal is a nexus for issues of race, gender and imperialism, but has received surprisingly little critical attention; most existing criticism positions the text in relation to aesthetics, surveillance and punishment, space, and issues of translation.2 My study examines the political implications of the text's generic strategies and explores how these generic strategies catalogue interior struggles between idealism and self-interest. Lewis's position toward slavery is complex and deeply ambivalent. He inherited two Jamaica plantations, Cornwall and Hordley, and roughly 413 slaves total. He owed his privileged lifestyle, complete with liberal education, to the system of absentee landlordism, yet abhorred the "execrable slave trade" and the abuse of slaves. Like many late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century intellectuals, his public statements reveal a rift between his political, antiemancipation stance and his philosophical commitment to ideas of liberty 27 28 / MALENAS and individual freedom.3 Lewis maintained that the slaves' lives were much better than the ones they would have experienced in Africa, but that the middle passage and the "seasoning" period (the first three years in the colonies) were cruel and inhumane.4 Lewis's conflicted position about slavery as an institution, however, was radically different from most of his planter-peers who viewed his attempts to ameliorate slaves' conditions as subversive and illegal. Lewis believed that by instituting reform and by being an engaged, benevolent master, he could alleviate the slaves' suffering during their "inevitable" servitude, while at the same time continuing to produce immense profit for himself. Thus, he supported legislation to abolish the slave trade in 1807, but did not support the abolitionists' drive for emancipation concurrent with the Journal's drafting. Understanding Lewis's position is further complicated by the groundswell of anti-slavery sentiment in England between the Journal's drafting before emancipation and its publication concurrent with emancipation. Lewis offered the first half of the Journal to Murray for publication in 1815. Lewis's main biographer, Lewis Peck, suggests that the reason it was not published was Lewis's demand of £2000 for the manuscript. Peck was partly correct, because Murray bought the manuscript from Charles Greville for only 400 guineas in 1834. However, as Peck also notes, Greville comments shrewdly in his diary that "it is the right moment for publishing them now that people are full of interest about the West India question."5 Murray's desire to publish was most likely due to a combination of the right price and renewed interest in the conditions of West Indian slavery pre-emancipation. How emancipation would have affected the contemporary reader's reaction to the Journal is unclear. Although the legislation was enforced by 1834, emancipated slaves in the West Indies were still required to serve out a forced six-year "apprenticeship" to their former masters; slaves in India, Ceylon, and St. Helena were still legally in bondage; and the British government was ineffectual in quelling the illegal slave trade that continued from West Africa.6 Given these circumstances, Lewis's documentation of reforms would have continued to be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6133
Print ISSN
0360-2370
Pages
pp. 27-51
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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