Credit: Wellcome Library, London Cameo made by J. Wedgwood of a slave in chains: 'Am I Not a Man and Brother' From: The poetical works of Erasmus Darwin By: Erasmus Darwin Published: J. JohnsonLondon  1806
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Cameo made by J. Wedgwood of a slave in chains: ‘Am I Not a Man and Brother’
From: The poetical works of Erasmus Darwin
By: Erasmus Darwin
Published: J. Johnson, London 1806.

 

“The distant and sullen roar of the sea scarcely broke the stillness of the night”

-Charles Darwin, Rio de Janeiro, April 8, 1832

What would have taken to break the silence?

One old woman,

who, sooner than again be led into slavery,

dashed herself to pieces from the summit

of the mountain.

“A Roman matron” she was not,

so for the explorer hers could not not be “love of freedom”.

She was, of course, “a poor negress”,

so hers was instead “mere brutal obstinacy”.

I quote, verbatim, as he wrote.

Days passed by pleasantly, in careful observation,

the natural world elevating the mind,

the vividness of light.

A few days later he would write he had no doubt

“slaves pass happy and contented lives”.

On Saturday and Sunday they work for themselves,

he said, (so they had no single day of rest),

and for the English gentleman

there was nothing wrong with this.

A few pages later, he testifies

of the inhumanity

of the separation of families;

“an uncommonly stupid” man of half-shut eyes

and frightened look,

who confused civilised gesticulation

with the master’s blow.

More lowly than a helpless animal,

this man was not his brother.

Every evening after dark,

he sat listening and often got distracted

by the passing of a flying insect.

He spent days watching little creatures buzzing around a flower.

 What would have taken to break the silence of that night?