The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Womans Lamentation


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It is nearly impossible to imagine another poet starting with either one of More's texts, stripping it of its conversion story and other Christian and missionary references, standardizing dialect terms and corrupt syntax, and then publishing the result in defiance of More's copyright in a reputable journal, even under a pseudonym.

Moreover, it would be difficult to account for the inconsistencies and awkward transitions that leap out at readers of the Cheap Repository texts if they indeed had been written by More "from scratch" and not on the basis of an earlier version with significantly different aims. Conversely, one can readily imagine More taking a version of "Yamba" close to that in the Universal Magazine and introducing just such changes in order to fit it to the Cheap Repository ethos, for this is how More herself describes her editorial practice.

As More outlined it to one potential patron, her plan was to displace the "indecent" songs and "penny histories" sold to lower-class readers by chapmen and pedlars with inexpensive tracts that might "strike on the affections, and help to give them a right tendency" Chatterton 1: Although she complained of the "trash" sent to her "weekly in prose and verse from all parts of the kingdom for the Repository" Chatterton 1: , at least on occasion More proved willing to revise an unsolicited submission rather than rely solely on her own creative efforts and those of her few regular contributors.

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But the work of revision could be laborious: "Almost every piece has, not only to be abridged and the style made familiar, but the phraseology to be changed [sic]" Chatterton 1: Narrative lines had to be "altered and improved" as well, with More "carefully observing to found all goodness in religious principles" Roberts 1: Since the absence of documentary records have made the authorship of the fifty-one tracts unclaimed by More "now almost impossible" to trace Spinney , it remains conceivable that an intermediary took the poem by "E.

But the "altered and improved" version fits readily with More's stated editorial practice and reflects the values found throughout her acknowledged antislavery writing. The distinct impression of More's altering hand at work grows even stronger when some of the less obtrusive changes are noted.

The first two stanzas of the Cheap Repository versions, for example, resemble those in the Universal Magazine text almost word for word, but the order of the stanzas is inverted. Instead of beginning, "Come, kind death, and give me rest," More's versions begin: "In St. Lucia's distant isle.

The Universal Magazine poem, in its one concession to orthodox religious morality, does have Yamba speak of an earlier suicide attempt as "impious" UM , line But the overall effect of the poem tends to align it with the slave suicide genre, an association all but demanded by its first stanza:. Even the poem's title may allude to that then-notorious fictional treatment of suicide, The Sorrows of Werther.

These associations would have been intolerable to More, who condemns "German literature" for its " French " principles and scorns Mary Wollstonecraft as a "professed admirer and imitator of the German suicide Werter" in Strictures on Female Education 1: , By switching the order of the opening stanzas and inverting the active and passive positions in Yamba's embrace of death, More could render the allusions to earlier slave suicide poems and to Goethe effectively inaudible, shielding her intended lower-class readership from cultural "corruption" Strictures 1: Another set of smaller changes concerns More's insertion of dialect or pseudo-dialect terms.

In preparing however inadequately for the crude dialect and broken syntax that characterize some of her added stanzas, More also changed a few standard terms in the material taken from Smith into her ersatz version of Afro-Caribbean dialect. In a change that seems almost comically intrusive, E. These changes and additions, despite their inconsistency with the bulk of the poem, might seem to proceed from More's stated practice of rendering the style "familiar," yet the result is to render Yamba's diction less familiar, more exotic.

Not to mention more childlike: Yamba's ready command of the standard lexicon and syntax in the Universal Magazine is disrupted by spurts of crude, stereotyped Afro-Caribbean speech in the Cheap Repository. Even slaves and former slaves who, like Phillis Wheatley, had publicly demonstrated their command of educated speech were demeaned in this fashion, as the crude pseudo-dialect attributed to "Phillis" in the broadside lampoon Dreadful Riot on Negro Hill! Even disencumbered of the changes and additions made for its inclusion in the Cheap Repository, the "Sorrows of Yamba" signed by "E.

The Sorrows of Yamba, or The Negro Woman's Lamentation

It grants its African speaker a greater degree of agency than do More's versions, but insofar as the poem evokes the slave suicide genre her despair and anger are ultimately turned upon herself. Its successive portrayal of Yamba's capture, the middle passage, the slave auction, field slavery, and approaching death retraces a narrative arc already well-established in antislavery writing by the s. Yet in comparison to a poem like Slavery , the Universal Magazine version of "Yamba" attests to the profound ideological differences that render a term like "Anglo-Africanism" as potentially misleading as it is useful.

Most strikingly, the poem attempts to counter its readers' Anglocentric bias by instead centering Yamba's thoughts, passions, and political hopes on "Afric. In the Universal Magazine poem, Britain may become a benign offshore presence, ensuring that no "slave ship sail the sea," but Afric's sons will "roam" without the dubious benefit of European guidance. Without More's Christianizing stanzas, the "Sorrows of Yamba" delivers a uniformly harsh indictment of "British laws" and the colonial practices and institutions they support, however mitigated by the occasional "kind" master.

The concluding stanzas, with the final image deleted by More of Britons seeking "blood," leave the reader with a much starker sense of British hypocrisy and cruelty. Throughout the poem, Yamba's perspective remains authoritative and her voice consistent, dignified, and assured. Juxtaposed with the Cheap Repository versions, the Universal Magazine text exhibits a striking degree of esthetic, ideological, and moral coherence. Its relative integrity again speaks to the compositional priority of the "E. Once the pseudonym "E.

For, although More never laid claim to "The Sorrows of Yamba," Smith did, including versions of the ballad in both editions of his collected poems. Sypher seems not to have bothered tracing the pseudonym, and one can hardly blame him.

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Although Eaglesfield Smith published some dozen titles in verse, drama, and prose, he fails to appear in standard biographical dictionaries and literary histories, and the bibliographical record of his works has long remained confusing and incomplete. Based on this chain of references, Emily Lorraine de Montluzin has attributed seventeen poems signed "E.

Smith again changed the poem's title, to "The Slave," in revising the poem for the second edition of his Poetical Works , expanded to two volumes and published by Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy in Queen's College, Belfast uniquely holds both volumes; volume one, which includes "The Slave," is also held by Harvard University. In this version, Smith changes "Ianda" back to "Yamba," deletes the refrain stanza closely modeled on Cowper, and adds a new framing stanza of his own. Otherwise, the original twenty-two stanzas appear in their expected order, again with only slight changes in wording and punctuation here and there.

Despite his many publications, Smith remained obscure enough in his own time that two reviewers of his collection took his proper name to be no less pseudonymous than "E. A reviewer for the Monthly Magazine simply referred to Eaglesfield Smith as a "fictitious personage" These remarks must have hurt, for records of Smith's marriage, death, estate, and genealogy, not to mention his headstone, all attest to his historical reality. His father, also named Eaglesfield Smith, was a prosperous landowner with his principal estate in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, and a second estate gained by marriage in Derby, England; Eaglesfield Smith, Jr.

British War Office records held in the Public Records Office bear out Smith's claim, in a brief note to the Poetical Works , that he had served time in a "French prison. His memorial inscription states that he died in at 68 years of age, giving a birth year of circa His family is still remembered in the Dumfries village of Eaglesfield, near his birthplace, though no one can say for certain whether the village is named for the senior or junior Eaglesfield Smith.

Knowledge of Smith's political sympathies must be gleaned from his published works, and these confirm the impression that the author of "The Sorrows of Yamba," in its original form, could be considered liberal to radical in politics in the s. Johnson, who published the Poetical Works , famously cultivated authors with radical opinions and reputations, including Joseph Priestley, William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Erasmus Darwin.

Just and his Son, A Poem , issued in and uncharacteristically signed, "E. Smith, Esq. Author of William and Ellen," was an outspoken defense of the French Revolution. Apparently, Smith's "tedious hours" in a French prison had left him with no hard feelings against his captors.

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Most of the book's reviewers roundly condemned it for its revolutionary sympathies, although one, Robert Southey, came to its defense. During the same years that he was sending poems to The Universal Magazine , The European Magazine, and The Gentleman's Magazine , all journals with a liberal editorial slant, Smith had somehow become connected with radical publishers, perhaps through membership in radical circles.

His shorter pieces take up any number of the liberal and radical causes of the day: child beggars, chimney sweeps, discharged soldiers, tinkers and gypsies, the "Birth of Liberty," and the West-Indian slave. Tracing the enigmatic initials "E.


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Given the liberal social values and radical political views informing his poetic output of the s, the young poet may well have been appalled at what More had made of his antislavery ballad. Printing his own version in the Universal Magazine , despite More's having entered her broadside edition in the Stationer's Register and thus obtained copyright, would have been an understandable response. At a time when copyright claims were jealously guarded and rigorously enforced St.

Clair , the Universal Magazine would have needed assurance of Smith's original authorship in order to reprint twenty-two stanzas of a copyrighted poem.

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Even so, the journal may have been taking a risk on Smith's behalf. The altered titles of the versions he included in his collected poems, along with the new introductory stanzas he added in each case, may reflect his publishers' worries regarding copyright infringement. If Smith had to revise "Ianda" and alter the heroine's name quickly under editorial pressure, it would explain why the added stanza in this case was effectively cribbed from Cowper, forcing him to subtitle the poem: " Not Wholly Original.

What remains certain is that the twenty-two stanzas of Smith's "Sorrows of Yamba" show a thematic coherence and stylistic integrity notably lacking in the longer Cheap Repository versions; that both the Cheap Repository broadside and chapbook texts show pronounced signs of dual authorship and editorial interpolation; that the added material and stylistic changes fit neatly with More's editorial policies and ideological slant; and that Smith twice reasserted his authorship of the version, though guardedly, in both editions of his collected poems.

The compelling case for Smith's authorship of the "ur-text" of "The Sorrows of Yamba," one presumably close or identical to the text, might suggest that anthologists should in future prefer that text to the Cheap Repository versions currently in print. Arguably, fates worse than slavery are hard to find. The parallel and contending themes of freedom from slavery and salvation in Christ battle each other throughout the poem, and ultimately reveal that thematically More and Smith believed that true slavery was a life bound in sin and devoid of God.

Through the heightened diction of the typically simply spoken Yamba, More and Smith assert their pro-abolitionist agenda. This illuminates a dark conviction to the trade of selling humans as commodities. Her entire life was uprooted by their pursuit of human goods. Through slavery, God granted Yamba freedom. Job, despite all the tribulations and the people around him begging him to abandon his faith, remained true. Likewise, Yamba highly values the positive results of her terrible experiences and believes she will attain heavenly reward in the afterlife for her great suffering More, Only after being given Christ was she able to accept the world as it is and forgive those who wronged her and her people.


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It is crucial that she is able to forgive her British captors after British evangelism saves her from committing suicide. Essentially, More and Smith speak for the people of Africa and believe that they want further involvement from outside powers. Without slavery, Yamba would never have found religion that she claims changed her life for the better.

More, Hannah and Smith, Eaglesfield, ed. Reporting from:. Your name. Your email.

The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Womans Lamentation The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Womans Lamentation
The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Womans Lamentation The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Womans Lamentation
The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Womans Lamentation The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Womans Lamentation
The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Womans Lamentation The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Womans Lamentation
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