"THE OFFICIAL WHISTLE-BLOWER OF THE HORRORS OF TRANSATLANTIC SLAVERY": VERY RARE FIRST EDITION OF THOMAS CLARKSON'S EPIC FIRST WORK, ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES, 1786
(CLARKSON, Thomas). An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Particularly the African…. With Additions. London: Printed by J. Phillips… sold by T. Cadell, in the Strand, and J. Phillips, 1786. Octavo, early 19th-century full brown calf gilt, raised bands, dark red morocco spine label; pp. (i-v), vi-xxxi ,(xxxii), (1), 2-256. $18,000.
First edition of Clarkson's first published work, his "'famous prize essay' on the abolition of slavery," igniting the campaign "for one of the fundamental rights of man" (PMM 232).
In 1770s England, as "rebellious Americans were severing ties with their former British motherland… a strenuous battle occurred that spawned the noble civil- and human-rights fight that eventually ended Britain's participation in the African slave trade." With this Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Thomas Clarkson "became the official whistle-blower of the horrors of transatlantic slavery… the driving force behind the abolition of African slavery and the slave trade" (Smith, Thomas Clarkson, 17). Clarkson's "famous prize essay… was the prelude to parliamentary action" on the abolition of slavery. Clarkson, together with William Wilberforce, led the "campaign, carried on by word of mouth and by means of the printing press, for one of the fundamental rights of man" (PMM 232). Clarkson had been completing his studies at Cambridge when he entered an essay competition, and came across an "advertisement for Benezet's Historical Account of Guinea. He was profoundly struck by the title and… 'hastened to London to buy it'…. Overwhelmed by the horror and brutality of transatlantic slavery, his goal of merely winning the prize for its own sake," shifted to creating a work of wider impact. On winning the 1785 Cambridge prize, Clarkson translated the essay, his Latin dissertation, into English for publication. He documents the long history of slavery, the devastating Middle Passage and the inhumanity of slavery in the colonies. Clarkson is renowned as "the man who spawned the British Abolitionist Movement and the first Briton to devote his entire adult life to ending African slavery… the moral conscience of American slavery proponents well into the 19th century" (Smith, 9-30, 43). "He never ceased to work for anti-slavery, lending his pen and his prestige particularly to the cause of abolition in the United States" (DNB). Bound without rear leaf of publisher's advertisement. Sabin 13484. ESTC T131486. Goldsmiths' 13279. Kress B1026.
Text fresh with lightest scattered foxing, light expert restoration to handsome binding.