chains and chimes of freedom

John Howard, friend of the Josiah Wedgwood circle, worked for prison reform, striding through the foul smelling jails of eighteenth-century England, in Erasmus Darwin’s words, “if not to sever, to relax the chains.” They themselves pressed for the abolition of slavery. Wedgwood convinced the poetess Anna Seward of the necessity for it; Thomas Day wrote “The Dying Negro” and other poems; Wedgwood and Bentley produced their famous cameo medallion of the kneeling slave asking, “Am I not a man and a brother?” ; and Darwin wrote to Wedgwood proposing an exhibition in the House of Commons of the “muzzles and gags made at Birmingham for the slaves in our islands” and of “one of their long whips and wire tails.”

—The children’s minister, Kevin Brennan, said: “Although we may sometimes be ashamed to admit it, the slave trade is an integral part of British history.
“It is inextricably linked to trade, colonisation, industrialisation and the British empire.
“It is important that children learn about this and the links to wider world history, such as the American civil rights movement – the repercussions of which are still being felt today.”
“That is why the slave trade will join the British Empire, two world wars and the holocaust as compulsory parts of the secondary school history curriculum from this September.”—Read More:

He too expressed himself in verse on this “detestable traffic in human creatures.” His description was clearly designed to accompany Wedgwood’s medallion, for he wrote with greater feeling than felicity:

Hear, oh, BRITANNIA! Potent Queen of isles,
On whom fair Art and meek Religion smiles,
How AFRIC’S coasts thy craftier sons invade
With murder, rapine, theft, – and call it Trade!
- The SLAVE, in chains, on supplicating knee,
Spreads his wide arms, and lifts his eyes to Thee;
With hunger pale, with wounds and toil oppress’d,
“ARE WE NOT BRETHREN?” sorrow choaks the rest;-
-AIR! Bear to heaven upon thy azure flood
Their innocent cries! – EARTH! – cover not their blood!

and he concluded with a warning to the apathetic:


—The boy in this portrait is said to have crossed the Atlantic to Liverpool as a stowaway, and was discovered by local Pre-Raphaelite artist William Windus on the doorstep of the Monument Hotel. He was apparently reunited with his parents after a relative saw the portrait in the window of a frame-maker’s shop, although it is not certain if this touching anecdote is true or not. —Read More:

Together they had a powerful effect and Benjamin Franklin wrote to Wedgwood from America to congratulate them on their efforts.

Closely allied to their philanthropy was the political liberalism of the group. Not that they acted as a body in politics, or even entirely agreed. The Lunar Society had its tory elements just as it had its Christians and atheists. As Joseph Priestley wrote: “The members had nothing to do with the religious or political principles of each other, we were united by a common love of science, which we thought sufficient to bring together persons of all distinctions- Christians, Jews, Mohametans and Heathens, Monarchists and Republicans.” But Thomas Day, Darwin, James Keir, William Small, Edgeworth, Wedgwood and Bentley were convinced liberals, as of course was Priestley.

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