Tag Archives: discovery

7 February: It is in vain to dispute against avarice and power.

Wilberforce spent some forty years working for the Abolition of Slavery, which was achieved in the United Kingdom in 1833. In the previous century, Samuel Johnson was a prominent figure against the trade and the institution of slavery, as recorded here by James Boswell.

In 1756 he described Jamaica as ‘a place of great wealth and dreadful wickedness, a den of tyrants and a dungeon of slaves.’ In 1759 he wrote:—’Of black men the numbers are too great who are now repining under English cruelty.’ In the same year, in describing the cruelty of the Portuguese discoverers, he said:—’We are openly told that they had the less scruple concerning their treatment of the savage people, because they scarcely considered them as distinct from beasts; and indeed, the practice of all the European nations, and among others of the English barbarians that cultivate the southern islands of America, proves that this opinion, however absurd and foolish, however wicked and injurious, still continues to prevail. Interest and pride harden the heart, and it is in vain to dispute against avarice and power.’

No miserable sophistry could convince him, with his clear mind and his ardour for liberty, that slavery can be right. ‘An individual,’ he wrote, ‘may, indeed, forfeit his liberty by a crime; but he cannot by that crime forfeit the liberty of his children.’ How deeply he felt for the wrongs done to helpless races is shown in his dread of discoverers. No man had a more eager curiosity, or more longed that the bounds of knowledge should be enlarged. Yet he wrote:—’I do not much wish well to discoveries, for I am always afraid they will end in conquest and robbery.’

Life of Johnson, Volume 2 1765-1776″ by James Boswell, via Kindle

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, PLaces

February 25: Wonderfully unguessed at! Brownings V.

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I would hope Elizabeth Barrett’s piano was more tuneful than this Victorian specimen, on long-term loan at the Turnstone’s till its owner can give it houseroom. Elizabeth is writing to Robert of the consequences of her confinement to her room after her injury and illness. This seemed worth putting alongside Traherne’s scientific and theological reflections yesterday. And again, reflect: only this afternoon I was able to listen on the BBC to Brahms’s German Requiem; Elizabeth had not heard any vast choral work, except perhaps in a church service, despite living in London. We have much to be grateful for. And how ignorant are we?

If ever I am in the Sistine Chapel, what teaching I shall want, I who have seen so few pictures, and love them only as children do, with an unlearned love, just for the sake of the thoughts they bring. Wonderfully ignorant I am, to have had eyes and ears so long!

There is music, now, which lifts the hair on my head, I feel it so much, … yet all I know of it as art, all I have heard of the works of the masters in it, has been the mere sign and suggestion, such as the private piano may give. I never heard an oratorio, for instance, in my life—judge by that! It is a guess, I make, at all the greatness and divinity … feeling in it, though, distinctly and certainly, that a composer like Beethoven must stand above the divinest painter in soul-godhead, and nearest to the true poet, of all artists. And this I felt in my guess, long before I knew you.

But observe how, if I had died in this illness, I should have left a sealed world behind me! you, unknown too—unguessed at, you, … in many respects, wonderfully unguessed at! Lately I have learnt to despise my own instincts. And apart from those—and you, … it was right for me to be melancholy, in the consciousness of passing blindfolded under all the world-stars, and of going out into another side of the creation, with a blank for the experience of this … the last revelation, unread! How the thought of it used to depress me sometimes!

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Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry