Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1
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CHAPTER VIII. - Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1 
The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, 2 vols. (London: L. Taylor, 1808). Vol. 1.
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Continuation of the fourth class of forerunners and coadjutors up to 1787—Bennet Langton—Dr. Baher—Lord and Lady Scarsdale—Author visits Ramsay at Teston—Lady Middleton and Sir Charles (now Lord Barham)—Author declares himself at the house of the latter ready now to devote himself to the cause—reconsiders this declaration or pledge—his reasoning and struggle upon it—persists in it—returns to London—and pursues the work as now a business of his life.
I had purposed, as I said before, when I determined to publish my Essay, to wait to see how the world would receive it, or what disposition there would be in the public to favour my measures for the abolition of the Slave-trade. But the conversation, which I had held on the thirteenth of March with William Dillwyn, continued to make such an impression upon me, that I thought now there could be no occasion for waiting for such a purpose. It seemed now only necessary to go forward. Others I found had already begun the work. I had been thrown suddenly among these, as into a new world of friends. I believed also that a way was opening under Providence for support. And I now thought that nothing remained for me but to procure as many coadjutors as I could.
I had long had the honour of the friendship of Mr. Bennet Langton, and I determined to carry him one of my books, and to interest his feelings in it, with a view of procuring his assistance in the cause. Mr. Langton was a gentleman of an ancient family, and respectable fortune in Lincolnshire, but resided then in Queen’s-square, Westminster. He was known as the friend of Dr. Johnson, Jonas Hanway, Edmund Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and others. Among his acquaintance indeed were most of the literary, and eminent professional, and public-spirited men of the times. At court also he was well known, and had the esteem of his present Majesty, with whom he frequently conversed. His friends were numerous also in both houses of the legislature. As to himself, he was much noted for his learning, but most of all for the great example he gave with respect to the usefulness and integrity of his life.
By introducing my work to the sanction of a friend of such high character and extensive connections, I thought I should be doing great things. And so the event proved. For when I went to him after he had read it, I found that it had made a deep impression upon his mind. As a friend to humanity he lamented over the miseries of the oppressed Africans, and over the crimes of their tyrants as a friend to morality and religion. He cautioned me, however, against being too sanguine in my expectations, as so many thousands were interested in continuing the trade. Justice, however, which he said weighed with him beyond all private or political interest, demanded a public inquiry, and he would assist me to the utmost of his power in my attempts towards it. From this time he became a zealous and active coadjutor in the cause, and continued so to the end of his valuable life.
The next person, to whom I gave my work with a like view, was Dr. Baker, a clergyman of the Establishment, and with whom I had been in habits of intimacy for some time. Dr. Baker was a learned and pious man. He had performed the duties of his profession from the time of his initiation into the church in an exemplary manner, not only by paying a proper attention to the customary services, but by the frequent visitation of the sick and the instruction of the poor. This he had done too to admiration in a particularly extensive parish. At the time I knew him he had May-fair chapel, of which an unusual portion of the congregation consisted then of persons of rank and fortune. With most of these he had a personal acquaintance. This was of great importance to me in the promotion of my views. Having left him my book for a month, I called upon him. The result was that which I expected from so good a man. He did not wait for me to ask him for his cooperation, but he offered his services in any way which I might think most eligible, feeling it his duty, as he expressed it, to become an instrument in exposing such a complication of guilt and misery to the world. Dr. Baker became from this time an active coadjutor also, and continued so to his death.
The person, to whom I sent my work next, was the late lord Scarsdale, whose family I had known for about two years. Both he and his lady read it with attention. They informed me, after the perusal of it, that both of them were desirous of assisting me in promoting the cause of the poor Africans. Lady Scarsdale lamented that she might possibly offend near and dear connections, who had interests in the West Indies, by so doing; but that conscious of no intention to offend these, and considering the duties of religion to be the first to be attended to, she should be pleased to become useful in so good a cause. Lord Scarsdale also assured me, that, if the subject should ever come before the house of lords, it should have his constant support.
While attempting to make friends in this manner, I received a letter from Mr. Ramsay, with an invitation to spend a month at his house at Teston, near Maidstone in Kent. This I accepted, that I might communicate to him the progress I had made, that I might gain more knowledge from him on the subject, and that I might acquire new strength and encourgement to proceed. On hearing my account of my proceedings, which I detailed to him on the first evening of our meeting, he seemed almost overpowered with joy. He said he had been long of opinion, that the release of the Africans from the scourges of this cruel trade, was within the determined views of Providence, and that by turning the public attention to their misery, we should be the instruments of beginning the good work. He then informed me how long he himself had had their cause at heart; that, communicating his feelings to sir Charles Middleton (now lord Barham) and his lady, the latter had urged him to undertake a work in their behalf; that her importunities were great respecting it; and that he had on this account, and in obedience also to his own feelings, as has been before mentioned, begun it; but that, foreseeing the censure and abuse, which such a subject, treated in any possible manner, must bring upon the author, he had laid it aside for some time. He had, however, resumed it at the solicitation of Dr. Porteus, then bishop of Chester, after which, in the year 1784, it made its appearance in the world.
I was delighted with this account on the first evening of my arrival; but more particularly as I collected from it, that I might expect in the bishop of Chester and sir Charles Middleton, two new friends to the cause. This expectation was afterwards fully realized, as the reader will see in its proper place. But I was still more delighted, when I was informed that sir Charles and lady Middleton, with Mrs Bouverie, lived at Teston-hall, in a park, which was but a few yards from the house in which I then was. In the morning I desired an introduction to them, which accordingly took place, and I found myself much encouraged and supported by this visit.
It is not necessary, nor indeed is there room, to detail my employments in this village, or the lonely walks I took there, or the meditations of my mind at such seasons. I will therefore come at once to a particular occurrence. When at dinner one day with the family at Teston-hall, I was much pleased with the turn which the conversation had taken on the subject, and in the joy of my heart, I exclaimed that, “I was ready to devote myself to the cause.” This brought great commendation from those present; and Sir Charles Middleton added, that if I wanted any information in the course of my future inquiries relative to Africa, which he could procure me as comptroller of the navy, such as extracts from the journals of the ships of war to that continent, or from other papers, I should have free access to his office. This offer I received with thankfulness, and it operated as a new encouragement to me to proceed.
The next morning, when I awoke, one of the first things that struck me was, that I had given a pledge to the company the day before, that I would devote myself to the cause of the oppressed Africans. I became a little uneasy at this. I questioned whether I had considered matters sufficiently to be able to go so far with propriety. I determined therefore to give the subject a full consideration, and accordingly I walked to the place of my usual meditations, the woods.
Having now reached a place of solitude, I began to balance every thing on both sides of the question. I considered first, that I had not yet obtained information sufficient on the subject, to qualify me for the undertaking of such a work. But I reflected, on the other hand, that Sir Charles Middleton had just opened to me a new source of knowledge; that I should be backed by the local information of Dillwyn and Ramsay, and that surely, by taking pains, I could acquire more.
I then considered, that I had not yet a sufficient number of friends to support me. This occasioned me to review them. I had now Sir Charles Middleton, who was in the House of Commons. I was sure of Dr. Porteus, who was in the House of Lords. I could count upon Lord Scarsdale, who was a peer also. I had secured Mr. Langton, who had a most extensive acquaintance with members of both houses of the legislature. I had also secured Dr. Baker, who had similar connections. I could depend upon Granville Sharp, James Phillips, Richard Phillips, Ramsay, Dillwyn, and the little committee to which he belonged, as well as the whole society of the Quakers. I thought therefore upon the whole, that, considering the short time I had been at work, I was well off with respect to support. I believed also that there were still several of my own acquaintance, whom I could interest in the question, and I did not doubt that, by exerting myself diligently, persons, who were then strangers to me, would be raised up in time.
I considered next, that it was impossible for a great cause like this to be forwarded without large pecuniary funds. I questioned whether some thousand pounds would not be necessary, and from whence was such a sum to come? In answer to this, I persuaded myself that generous people would be found, who would unite with me in contributing their mite towards the undertaking, and I seemed confident that, as the Quakers had taken up the cause as a religious body, they would not be behind-hand in supporting it.
I considered lastly, that, if I took up the question, I must devote myself wholly to it. I was sensible that a little labour now and then would be inadequate to the purpose, or that, where the interests of so many thousand persons were likely to be affected, constant exertion would be necessary. I felt certain that, if ever the matter were to be taken up, there could be no hope of success, except it should be taken up by some one, who would make it an object or business of his life. I thought too that a man’s life might not be more than adequate to the accomplishment of the end. But I knew of no one who could devote such a portion of time to it. Sir Charles Middleton, though he was so warm and zealous, was greatly occupied in the discharge of his office. Mr. Langton spent a great portion of his time in the education of his children. Dr. Baker had a great deal to do in the performance of his parochial duty. The Quakers were almost all of them in trade. I could look therefore to no person but myself; and the question was, whether I was prepared to make the sacrifice. In favour of the undertaking I urged to myself, that never was any cause, which had been taken up by man in any country or in any age, so great and important; that never was there one in which so much misery was heard to cry for redress; that never was there one, in which so much good could be done; never one, in which the duty of Christian charity could be so extensively exercised; never one, more worthy of the devotion of a whole life towards it; and that, if a man thought properly, he ought to rejoice to have been called into existence, if he were only permitted to become an instrument in forwarding it in any part of its progress. Against these sentiments on the other hand I had to urge, that I had been designed for the church; that I had already advanced as far as deacon’s orders in it; that my prospects there on account of my connections were then brilliant: that, by appearing to desert my profession, my family would be dissatisfied, if not unhappy. These thoughts pressed upon me, and rendered the conflict difficult. But the sacrifice of my prospects staggered me, I own, the most. When the other objections, which I have related, occurred to me, my enthusiasm instantly, like a flash of lightning, consumed them: but this stuck to me, and troubled me. I had ambition. I had a thirst after worldly interest and honours, and I could not extinguish it at once. I was more than two hours in solitude under this painful conflict. At length I yielded, not because I saw any reasonable prospect of success in my new undertaking (for all cool-headed and cool-hearted men would have pronounced against it), but in obedience, I believe, to a higher Power. And this I can say, that both on the moment of this resolution, and for some time afterwards I had more sublime and happy feelings than at any former period of my life.
Having now made up my mind on the subject, I informed Mr. Ramsay, that in a few days I should be leaving Teston, that I might begin my labours, according to the pledge I had given him.