Cancelled Past event

English Research Seminar -- Dr Adam Bridgen Revisiting Stephen Duck (c. 1705-56): A Paradigm for Antislavery before Abolition

This talk considers the broadening horizons of British labouring-class poetry of the 18th century, and the ways in which these engagements reflect but also notably resist their nation's concomitant commercial and colonial expansions. It takes as its focus the “thresher poet” Stephen Duck (1705-1756), one of the first and most influential poets to take advantage of a growing polite, primitivist taste for literature reflecting Britain's “native genius”.

Dr Adam Bridgen will explore the presence of slavery in Duck's poetry, focusing on his early, and best known poem, The Thresher's Labour (1730), as well as his little-known narrative poem Avaro and Amanda (1736) – a version of the popular tale of Inkle and Yarico (first published in Richard Steele's Spectator 11).

Considering how an African presence emerges in The Thresher's Labour amidst Duck's description of threshing and, in parallel, how Duck's vivid portrayal of colonial slavery in Avaro and Amanda harks back to this earlier scene, Dr Bridgen makes a case for the complex cross-fertilisation of critical ideas about labour both in Britain and its colonies, and the unusual significance which slavery held for labouring-class poets like Duck.

Through a discussion of Duck's poetics, this talk will draw particular attention to the variability of literary engagements with the subject of slavery across different social classes. It is often said that Duck's move from the country to the city resulted in his stifling absorption into urbane literary culture.

The talk will end by discussing the significance of Duck within Dr Bridgen's larger book-project on this topic, and offer some reflections on how the archive of labouring-class verse can compliment current work towards more inclusive, decentered histories of abolition.