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Letters on the West Indies.

WILBERFORCE William.; WALKER James (1818.)

£7500.00  [First Edition]

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First edition. Large 8vo., Front free endpaper, half-title, and title lightly foxed, but otherwise a very good copy in contemporary condition with two edges untrimmed, in the original blue boards and paper spine (corners and edges worn, upper board very loose but being held by two bands), carefully preserved in a custom-made cloth box. xvi, 268 pp. London, printed for Rest Fenner by (S. Curtis),

An evocative presentation copy inscribed by the author to fellow Berbice Committee member William Wilberforce "for the advantage of his observations on the manuscript" of the present work.

Walker and Wilberforce worked closely together on the Berbice Committee which governed the Crown estates in the Caribbean colony of Berbice. He inscribed this copy on the half-title: "To Wm. Wilberforce Esq. M.P. with the author's grateful acknowledgement for the advantage of his observations on the manuscript". Walker's inscription shows the close involvement of the two men in producing Letters on the West Indies.

This copy also has underlinings, marginal reading marks and the occasional annotation in pencil in the text and on the rear endpapers which may be Wilberforce's, as he often read pencil in hand, although none of his actual ownership markings appear. One of the passages marked in the margin would no doubt have been of interest to Wilberforce: "I have heard of a planter who named one of his drivers Wilberforce. It might no doubt be a vast gratification to the elegant mind of this gentleman to unite the sound of this name with the sound of the lash" (Hayward, 220).

Initially a separate Dutch colony, Berbice fell to Britain in 1803. "Sugar estates in Berbice which were the the property of the Dutch government became the property of the British crown - along with the slaves attached to them. Managed at first by the new colonial administration, the estates and the condition of the slaves appear to have 'sustained a progressive deterioration in all respects'" (ibid, 166). After failing to find a private individual to manage the estates who would abide by certain conditions affecting the welfare of the slaves, a commission was formed, headed by William Wilberforce and five others, to manage the estates.

"Wilberforce must have seen the 'Berbice Commission' as a heaven sent opportunity to demonstrate the practicality of the humanitarian approach - to refute the constant argument that the ideas of the Abolitionists spelt ruin for the estates, their owners and the trade in their produce. Certainly he welcomed the commission and, with kindred spirits as fellow commissioners, was well set to carry the campaign to the plantations, and to some of the worst plantations anywhere" (ibid, 167).

In Letters on the West Indies, Walker puts forth, in a series of nine letters, his observations on his time as an administrator for the estates owned by the British crown in Berbice. Perhaps the most interesting letter is letter VIII (pp. 206-224) "On the African Character" where Walker suggests, among other things, that self-restraint and prudence in governing slaves would prevent stirrings "A general habit, among colonists, of controlling their own spirits, would be worth nine-tenths of the militia force" (219).

Hayward (Jack Ernest Shalom). Out of Slavery: Abolition and After. Routledge, 2013. 

Stock Code: 217475