This essay considers the political implications of the musical dimension of antislavery ballads in the context of English abolitionism. It examines two ballads, William Cowper's "The Negro's Complaint" (1788) and Hannah More's "The Sorrows of Yamba" (1797), both of which were set to the tune of an older English song, Richard Glover's "Admiral Hosier's Ghost" (1740). Glover's ballad commemorates a Caribbean military victory over Spain, as well as a humanitarian disaster—the deaths of thousands of English sailors from yellow fever in Porto Bello (an outpost for the slave trade) under Robert Walpole's leadership. Drawing on Susan Stewart's theory of lyric possession, the essay argues that antislavery ballads by Cowper and More are formally haunted by the melancholy imperial context of Glover's song. It suggests that the project of constructing a political voice for the African slave in these ballads is compromised by the tune they conjure to broadcast that voice.


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pp. 197-218
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