An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Particularly the African.

CLARKSON Thomas (1786.)



Translated from a Latin Dissertation, Which Was Honoured with the First Prize in the University of Cambridge, for the Year 1785, with Additions

First Dublin edition. 8vo. Later half calf over marbled boards, rebacked, spine gilt, marbled edges, extremities slightly rubbed, very good. 4, [v]-xxxii, 256pp. Dublin, Byrne and Porter,

The first Dublin edition of a work which not only established Thomas Clarkson as an abolitionist, but also galvanized the London abolition movement itself. It was printed in the same year as the London first.


ODNB tells the story of the importance of this work in Clarkson’s life and how it changed his trajectory from clergyman to abolitionist. This essay was his entry into the university Latin prize which he’d won the year before. The question was ‘Anne liceat invitos in servitutem dare’ (‘Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?’). “Clarkson took the title to be an invitation to consider the Atlantic slave trade, and read up the subject as well as he could in the few weeks available to him, beginning with Anthony Benezet’s Historical Account of Guinea. What he discovered appalled him and oppressed him, both as a man and a Christian. He won the prize, but that now seemed a little thing, and after reading the essay in the Senate House in June he rode off to London, meditating the horrors of slavery all the way. While resting his horse at Wadesmill, Hertfordshire, he underwent a moment of conversion: ‘a thought came into my mind, that if the contents of the Essay were true, it was time some person should see these calamities to their end’ (Clarkson, History, vol. 1). In later years a small monument was erected to mark the spot.”


“Clarkson took the essay to a Quaker bookshop run in London by James Phillips. Phillips ... published Clarkson’s work ... and introduced Clarkson to many others (such as Dr. Ramsay; William Dillwyn, Benezet’s pupil; and Granville Sharp) who, from different perspectives, were determined to destroy slavery. Clarkson was surprised to learn of the work on the subject close to his heart which had been done by these men. With this meeting, inspired by a Quaker bookseller, of the disparate members of the abolition movement in London, the campaign against the commerce in slaves began in earnest” (Thomas).


While copies of the Dublin edition (printed in the same year) appear from time to time, auction records list only eight copies of the true first edition having sold since 1904.


PMM 232; cf. Sabin, 13484; Thomas, Hugh, The Slave Trade ... (London, 2013) pp. 492-3.

Stock Code: 244236

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