Almeida, "Translating a Slave’s Life"

Circulations: Romanticism and the Black Atlantic

"Translating a Slave’s Life: Richard Robert Madden and the Post-Abolition Trafficking of Juan Manzano’s Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba"

Joselyn Almeida
University of Massachusetts, Amherst


1.        The World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 featured a “who’s who” of abolitionists who rose to prominence during the Romantic period. Joseph Sturge envisioned “a Society for the abolition of slavery throughout the world” (Richard 204), and was the prime mover behind the formation of The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and the convention. Such notables as Lady Byron, Amelia Opie, and Benjamin Robert Haydon, John Keats’ longtime friend, witnessed Thomas Clarkson give the opening oration and prayer. Reflecting on the commemorative portrait he painted afterwards, Haydon wrote “I have seen the most afflicted tragedies, imitative and real; but never did I witness in life or in the drama, so deep, so touching, and pathetic an effect produced on any great assembly as by the few unaffected, unsophisticated words of this aged and agitated person” (qtd. in Richard 218). For as much as the Convention was ostensibly launching a new chapter for British abolitionists, they were also witnessing the end of an era, symbolized in Clarkson’s “aged and agitated person.” As David Turley shows, Clarkson was as much of symbol of continuity as a representative of the “growing divergences” within the anti-slavery movement after the goal of the abolition of slavery in the West Indies had been achieved. Clarkson “seemed too attached to reputation … embarrassed or irritated Wilberforce, Stephen, and Macaulay, who all also doubted his judgment on some issues” (Turley 93). [1]  Against these internecine struggles, the Convention became a rallying point and a potent reaffirmation of the abolitionist mission. In reciting the milestones of the abolitionist movement, the Secretary of the Committee reminded fellow abolitionists that “notwithstanding their joy and thanksgiving for the events they had been permitted to witness” in the “freedom of every descendant of Africa in the British Colonies,” they “could not forget that in the nations of the American Continent and its adjacent islands, upwards of five millions were still groaning under the oppression, and subject to the cruelty of slavery” ("Proceedings" 6).

2.        One of the speakers at the convention was Richard Robert Madden, an Irish physician and civil servant with literary ambitions, who delivered a thirty-page report on the status of Cuban slavery. He is best known perhaps for his 7 volume History of the United Irishmen (1843-6) (Rodgers 119), and he has enjoyed a recent resurgence thanks to the work of Gera Burton, Lorna Willliams, William Luis, and Sylvia Molloy. Romanticists may know him through Alan Richardson and Debbie Lee’s Early Black British Writing, which includes two of Madden’s translations of the Afro-Cuban poet Juan Manzano. [2]  Madden launched his civil service career in the Caribbean: he embarked for Jamaica as a Special Magistrate in 1833, and two years later published A Twelvemonth’s Residence in the West Indies, During the Transition from Slavery to Apprenticeship (1835). He afterwards was appointed Superintendent of Africans in Havana between 1836 and 1839, where he moved through the top circles of Cuban society, including the tertulias of “liberal” planter Domingo del Monte, where he most likely met Manzano. [3]  The Afro-Cuban poet frequented Del Monte’s literary circle after he had fled from the service of the Marquesa de Prado Ameno and had published Cantos a Lesbia (1821) while he lived in Havana and hired himself out as a valet. [4]  Manzano had been among the Marquesa’s favorite pages, a post for which his early education had prepared him—he was nicknamed “pico de oro” [golden tongue] and the plantation children, black or white, would gather to hear his stories (Obras 10, 12). [5]  But the Marquesa’s preference came at a price. Manzano’s account reveals she shared the planters’ paranoia about a slave’s thievery and lying, and the punishments to which she submitted Manzano on the mere suspicion of either cause the narrative to halt into silence; he closes the narration of incidents where he or his family suffer extreme physical pain and trauma saying “Pero pasemos en silencio el resto de esta escena dolorosa … corramos un belo por el resto de esta escena” [But let us be silent before the rest of this painful scene … let us close the curtain on the rest of this scene] (Obras 16, 26). [6] 

3.        This essay examines the translation of Manzano’s Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba, Recently Liberated: Translated from the Spanish by R.R. Madden, with the History of the Early Life of the Negro Poet Written by Himself (1840) within the moment that traditionally has been read as a transition between slave labor and free market capitalism. The complicity of Cuban planters with Madden, an avowed abolitionist, to disseminate a translation of Manzano’s life invites us to think further about the circumstances of production of a text that has received ample critical attention. Madden generates the translation as part of the cultural capital that the British abolitionist movement needed to ensure a future beyond 1840 given the realignment of geopolitical and economic power in the Atlantic during the 1830s, one that included British support for the Latin American Wars of Independence. [7]  Yet this realignment corresponded with a “new international division of labor [that] provided important industrial raw materials and foodstuffs for industrializing core powers” (Tomich 69). Notwithstanding Clarkson’s insistence that free labor in a free market would reward those who employed it, in this new order British consumption did not suddenly switch from plantocratic monopolies to the free market. [8]  Rather, Britons continued to consume the products of slaves from Cuba, Brazil, and the United States even as they sought national rehabilitation from their own participation in the slave trade. [9]  The free market actually integrated both slave and free labor into the circulation of capital through the mechanism of credit, which can also be read as “the scene of exchange between the linguistic and the economic” (Derrida, "White Mythology," 216). Within translation’s economy of linguistic indebtedness, Madden’s text functions paradoxically as a sign of appropriated cultural labor, and performs an ideological accommodation of slavery within the free market / free labor system. He “imports” the “raw material” of Manzano’s life and reflects the double bind of an abolitionism intimately bound up with free market beneficence.

4.        In The Ear of the Other, Derrida suggests that “Translation can do everything except mark this linguistic difference inscribed in the language, this difference of language systems inscribed in a single tongue” (100). In the case of Madden and Manzano, the fraught relationship between a translator and his source —the impossibility of complete fidelity to the original— acquires added levels of complexity given the asymmetry of power between translator and author. Madden’s position as representative of the British government placed him in a quasi-diplomatic role, and his authority to mediate between his own government, planters like Del Monte, and slaves who were sold in violation of the 1835 treaty between England and Spain inflects his translation with ventriloquizing and distancing voices. [10]  Brian Mossop defines the ventriloquizing voice as one that is written for “the party to whom the translator is reporting” and the distancing one as “the manner of writing of the party who has already written a text in the source language” (19); in Madden’s case, this would be an abolitionist’s voice. His choice of tailoring the translation to the expectations of British readers or highlighting the provenance of the text and his own role as translator has generated a range of critical responses to Madden’s agency. Sylvia Molloy has read a kind of betrayal in Madden’s omission of Manzano’s name from the English translation, the changes Madden makes to the chronology of events, and the removal of individuating biographical details, such as Manzano’s constant hunger. [11]  “[Madden’s] translation was presented not as the life story of one individual but as the generic account of ‘the Cuban slave’ … The claim for representativeness that led Madden to the excision of the particular … tell us as much about Madden and his practice of reading as it does about the generic Cuban slave” (Molloy 405-6). More recently, Gera Burton counters Molloy by suggesting that there was a friendship between the two men, and that Madden’s abolitionist credentials, amply documented, place him above the suspicion of “unauthorizing” Manzano’s text, and filtering the narrative for a British audience through colonialist lenses. [12]  Burton reads the alterations of the original Spanish, including the sequence of events, as Madden capturing the “ambivalence” of the colonial condition Madden and Manzano shared. “Surmounting the odds, Manzano and Madden each succeeded in effecting agency by forming an alliance of sorts. As a counter-discursive strategy, the Irishman ‘united his voice’ with that of the Cuban” (Burton 50). [13] 

5.        The unmediated way in which Burton presents this union, however, points to the abolitionist relationship to power, one in which humanitarians emphasized the complete abjection of enslaved peoples in order to speak and act on their behalf. Randall McGowen suggests that this strategy “obscured the process by which this identification [with power] was achieved, and the cost it might occasion for a victim. The appeal to humanity made it easier to imagine a sympathetic link that leapt across cultural differences. . . But the precondition to such an appeal to be made was the denial of its own power” (108). In stressing the friendship between Manzano and Madden, Burton minimizes the collaboration between Madden and Del Monte in getting the original from Manzano. The abolitionist content of Madden’s translation conceals the site of cooperation between the planter and Madden, yet it is crucial in understanding how Madden’s translation performs an ideological accommodation of Cuban slavery in the new Atlantic economy while it overtly condemns it. The collusion between Madden and Del Monte creates a problem space where Manzano’s cultural capital is appropriated first by Del Monte and subsequently by Madden, since both the planter and the civil servant could see their respective causes advanced through the translation of Manzano’s life into English. During the 1830s, Del Monte and other Cuban abolitionists were concerned that too many Africans had been imported to Cuba, and feared that the imbalance between blacks and whites would precipitate a second Haiti (Sarracino 103-4). Del Monte saw British vigilance against further trade in slaves as a means of controlling Cuba’s African population, and he was a willing collaborator with Madden. As Del Monte complained to a correspondent in the United States:

Los habitantes más ricos del país están ciegos y no ven el peligro inminente en que se encuentran de perderlo todo: todavía compran negros y abogan por la continuación del tráfico, y llaman revoltosos y amigos de los ingleses a los pocos patriotas ilustrados que declaman contra la introducción de africanos y promueven la introducción de blancos en la isla.
The richest inhabitants of the country are blind and cannot see the imminent danger in which they stand to lose everything: they still purchase blacks and advocate the continuation of the traffic; they style the few enlightened patriots who declare against the introduction of Africans and promote the immigration of whites to the island as rabble-rousers and friends of the English. (qtd. in Sarracino 107-8; trans mine).
The “enlightenment” of the Cuban patriots hinted at a eugenicist program, much like the one Domingo Faustino Sarmiento proposed decades later in Conflicto y armonía de las razas de América (1883) [Conflict and harmony between the races of America]. Del Monte’s abolitionism is thus mixed with an implicit policy to whiten the overall population of Cuba, and to maintain power concentrated in a ruling elite. Ironically, his friendship with Madden and other British Superintendents eventually implicated Del Monte in the notorious Escalera conspiracy in 1843. [14] 

6.        For his part, Madden banked on the abolitionist familiarity with autobiography as a literary form to sell the novelty of the story by a “Cuban slave, ” one to which his audience responded. The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter gave a synopsis of the text that reads like a summary of a generic slave narrative with the exception that it singles out Manzano’s origin:

A volume has just been published of a very singular character and of great interest…But the more most remarkable circumstance is that it introduces us to the acquaintance of a Cuban slave of high native endowment and poetical genius. Juan —, although now happily free—his name, nevertheless, is concealed, lest the publication of this volume should be to his injury at Havana—was a slave for thirty eight years. Amidst the utmost disadvantages he taught himself to write, he acquired excellence in drawing, he shewed taste in modeling, he wrote a history of his own life, and he composed verses—nay, poetry, and that of a high order too…Juan’s account of his own life is a piece of autobiography beautifully executed, and deeply interesting. ("Slavery in Cuba" 314) [15] 
Whereas British writers such as Equiano and Prince have demonstrated their “native endowment,” other enslaved peoples have yet to demonstrate it; Juan’s “high native endowment” as a Cuban slave strikes the reviewer as a “remarkable circumstance.” The qualifications after Manzano’s first name parallel the list of accomplishments that intensify the writer’s second moment of surprise, where Manzano’s poetry is not just “verses,” but “of a high order too.” The reviewer responds to the distancing voice that reveals Madden’s assumptions about a British abolitionist audience after 1839, and the desire of such an audience to read slavery as foreign and not as an occurrence that had been deeply familiar until 1838. The autobiography of a Cuban slave iterates and promises to revitalize the slave narrative in exotic garb, from “a voice coming from some place other than ‘here’ (and possibly ‘now’)” (Mossop 34).

7.        Most critics accept that Del Monte acted as Manzano’s literary patron, yet it is clear that the relationship between master and slave that pervaded Cuban society underwrote the solicitation of the manuscript and its subsequent edition. Del Monte solicited the autobiography from Manzano after the Afro-Cuban poet recited the sonnet "Mis treinta años" ["My Thirty Years" ] in a tertulia; the story that Manzano’s talent impressed him so much that he raised funds so that Del Monte could buy his freedom has been passed down with the cover page of the Spanish manuscript —written in a hand other than Manzano’s— as well as the suggestion that once Manzano attained his freedom, he lost his poetic talent. [16]  Del Monte then had Anselmo Suárez y Romero, one of his associates, edit the Spanish manuscript, and give it to Madden (Luis 83). There is no evidence in the narrative or his letters to Del Monte that Manzano is ever offered any remuneration for writing it (except for the facilitation of his manumission), and Manzano did not know the details of what Del Monte planned for it beyond a vague notion that his master at the time “tenía interés de que biesen en Europa algunos que tenía razón de ablar de un siervo de su casa, poeta, cuyos versos recitaba de memoria y algunos dudaban que fuesen de uno sin estudios” […was interested that some people from Europe saw for themselves that he was right to speak about a servant in his household, a poet, who from memory recited verses that some doubted could be from an uneducated person] (Manzano, Obras, 87). If, as Burton claims, Madden befriended Manzano while the later was still writing the autobiografía, Madden did not intimate anything about the autobiography’s projected translation or audience. Del Monte and Madden thus circumscribe Manzano’s sense of audience to men who have direct power over him. By contrast, Equiano saw himself addressing the British nation; as Sonia Hofkosh has argued, “Equiano’s Interesting Narrative claims its place in the public sphere, as a political intervention in a vital national debate, as an ‘insrument’ in the formation of public opinion and legislative policy” (334). [17]  In limiting Manzano’s audience, Del Monte and Madden reduce the field of reception for the author, and thus the levels of intervention that Manzano could envision for his text and the range his voice and story could have: a Cuban freedman speaking to other freedmen, slaves, and criollo abolitionists; a man whose life story would reach the international delegates and packed audiences at the Anti-Slavery Convention.

8.         Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba came out in time for the convention, and Madden dedicated it to Joseph Sturge. The social and economic relations that allowed Del Monte to appropriate the manuscript from Manzano and gift it to Madden, who then repurposed it for his own ends, emerge in Madden’s own account of the circuitous route of the text:

A Collection of Poems written by a slave recently liberated . . . was presented to me in the year 1838 by a gentleman at Havana, a Creole . . . some of these pieces had fortunately found their way to Havana, and attracted the attention of the literary people there, while the poor author was in slavery in the neighborhood of Matanzas. The gentleman to whom I have alluded . . . redeemed this poor fellow from slavery . . . [and] induced him to write his story. (Madden 37, 39)
If Manzano and Madden had a friendship —an alliance, as Burton suggests— why is it Del Monte who “presents” the text to Madden, and who also “induces” Manzano into the labor of writing it? Manzano’s free will is subject to Del Monte as the man who “redeemed” him from slavery; besides the religious connotations of saving someone from sin, the second definition of the word suggests to “gain or regain possession of something in exchange for payment” (OED). The relationship of indebtedness that Del Monte creates when he “redeems” Manzano entitles him to Manzano’s labor without remuneration. Manzano thus has to suffer “inducement” to write as payment for Del Monte’s role in buying him out of slavery. The labor that Manzano is compelled to do for Del Monte does not get compensated, unless Manzano’s manumission itself is a form of payment, a loan that Manzano must repay. Del Monte thus practices a kind of usury to extract the literary value of Manzano’s life, one that Madden continues in his translation by staging Manzano’s invisibility in the text. In Derridean terms, this relationship of usury is one of “erasure by rubbing, exhaustion, crumbling away, certainly; but also the supplementary product of a capital, the exchange which far from losing the original investment would fructify its initial wealth, would increase the return in the form of revenue, additional interest, linguistic value” ("White Mythology" 210). The omission of Manzano’s name as author, and the attribution in the Preface to Del Monte and not Manzano as the originator of the text, multiply the relation of indebtedness that induces labor.  [18]  By accepting the manuscript from Del Monte, Madden assumes Manzano’s debt.

9.        Madden’s stated aim in performing the translation is to “vindicate in some degree the character of the negro intellect, at least the attempt affords me an opportunity of recording my conviction, that the blessings of education and good government are only wanting to make the Natives of Africa, intellectually and morally, equal to any people on the surface of the globe” (37). Like Del Monte, Madden seeks to “redeem” Manzano before a mostly white audience, like the “God of all light and truth” on whom Madden calls to “Reprove the despot and redeem the slave” ("The Slave-Trade Merchant" l. 259). Redemption, however, involves taking possession of Manzano through the translated text and Madden’s appropriation of Manzano’s cultural labor. The translation codifies the commodification of the Cuban worker’s labor for a British market and the complicity of the Cuban elite, collapsing the labor of the “recently liberated” with the work of the slave. The symbolic investment of the translation reproduces the transformation of the two kinds of labor into credit and debt that mirrored the workings of the free market and finance capital. In 1834, for instance, British banks financed the first Cuban railroad with a loan of £400,000, and its construction relied “on local journeymen and mainly rented slaves and freemen” (Zanetti and García 26, 29). [19] 

10.        Moreover, the strange presentation of the work as the Poems of a Cuban Slave, when what one is Madden’s own two poems, "The Slave Trade Merchant," and "The Sugar Estate," before getting to Manzano’s life and poems, reifies the position of the British subject as interpreter and consumer of the lives of others. Within the Poems by a Cuban Slave, Manzano’s life serves as documentation for Madden’s poems, a proto-appendix that foreshadows the appendices that follow. One contemporary reviewer noted the imbalance: “The major part of [Poems by a Cuban Slave] is occupied by a poem of Dr. Madden’s own” ("Anthology" 403). Madden crowds out Manzano, and turns the translator, usually the marginal, anonymous figure, into the author. Even as he explains the translation, Madden manages to highlight his poems. “I have given a literal translation of it [Manzano’s life], and that translation, revised by a Spaniard, will be found at the end of these poems” ["The Slave Trade Merchant" and "The Sugar Estate" ] (39).

11.        The signifying relation between Madden’s framing poems and appendices and Manzano’s work in the volume becomes the “exchange” that will “fructify … the wealth” of Madden’s investment in Manzano, since Madden uses the Cuban writer’s life to draw both veracity and value for his own enunciations—both the poetic and the documentary. Besides performing the abolitionist gesture of showing the world that Africans had intelligence and feelings, Madden self-consciously presents his work as part of a literary abolitionist tradition. He places himself alongside a canonical list of British anti-slavery poets such as Hannah More, James Montgomery and William Cowper on the grounds that Cuban planters have only been written about “by travelers who have judged their humanity by the curteousness of their manners” (38), and he intends to rectify the record. With the “The Slave Merchant” and “The Sugar Estate,” Madden “determined, therefore, to give a short but faithful sketch of the Cuban slave-trade merchant and planter in verse” (38). These poems have been overlooked in commentary about Madden’s translation, which has focused on Manzano’s life and poems given contemporary critical interests. Yet the poems are as much a part of the translation as Madden’s pledged fidelity to Manzano’s original since they situate Madden in an aesthetic, cultural, and political landscape that abolitionist readers could understand and through which they could read Manzano’s life.

12.        As McGowen points out, “The discourse of the anti-slavery movement revolved around three figures—the slave, the slave owner, and the humanitarian” (104). Madden recasts these figures through the cultural Otherness of Cuba and the foreignness of Spanish. He differentiates the humanitarian through his depiction of the Cuban slave-merchant and the planter as personifications of extreme greed and his exposure of the dissonance between the planter’s gallant code of conduct to foreigners vis-à-vis his inhumanity to the slaves. The need for translation, given Cuba’s exotic setting, makes the silence of the slaves more pronounced since there is an added layer between the British abolitionist reader and the Cuban enslaved person—that of a “foreign” language. In "The Slave-Trade Merchant," the figure of effictio serves to draw a portrait in contrasts between the surface appearance and the truths that Madden as abolitionist and cultural insider can reveal. Effictio is forensic as it is descriptive, and it allows Madden to distance himself clinically from the slave merchant as he catalogues the “trade” (l.39) and denounces the crimes that support it. The deference that people have towards the merchant’s “solemn features” (l.2), and conspicuous wealth, “those gay saloons, this banquet hall’s array” (l.13), ignores his real identity, which Madden can disclose as privileged observer. He instructs the reader:

Behold, his heart! It is not all that’s fair
And smooth without, that’s staunch and sound elsewhere.
E’en in the calmest breast, the lust of gold
May have its firmest seat and fastest hold
May fix its fatal canker in the core,
Reach every feeling, taint it more and more;
Nor leave one spot of soundness where it falls,
Nor spark of pity where its lust enthralls. (16-24)
Greed infects the merchant’s “heart” and “core,” corrupting and ultimately destroying his ability to feel for others. Madden asks his readers to weigh the merchant’s material well-being and desire for profit against his diseased morality: “To human suffering, sympathy and shame, / His heart is closed, and wealth is all his aim” (l. 218-9). The heroic couplets reinforce the opposition between the public persona of the planter and his rotten internal self. The heart is “not all that’s fair,” and “the calmest breast” burns with the “lust of gold.”

13.        Madden attributes society’s acceptance of the planter to his seeming lack of connection to the violence of slavery because of the physical distance between the businessman and slavers in the African coast. Scenes of a slave merchant writing do not occur often in abolitionist poetry; their appearance in Madden’s poem call attention to writing as an instrument of the trader, one that he uses to manage his business across continents. The merchant “Sits at his desk, and with composure sends / A formal order to his Gold-coast friends / For some five hundred ‘bultos’ of effects” (l.44). The writing of the merchant enables the conversion of credit, “the formal order,” into “bultos,” a conversion reversed once the slaves reach their expected destination. As Ian Baucom explains, “slaves were thus treated not only as a type of commodity but as a type of interest bearing money. They functioned in this system simultaneously as commodities for sale and as the reserve deposits of a loosely organized, decentered, but vast trans-Atlantic banking system” (61). [20]  The Spanish term bultos casts into relief the symbolic transacting of the merchant’s credit and its concatenation of value to slaves both as commodities and as potential capital in the bodies that will be forced to labor. Later, Madden indicates “The pen does all the business of the sword, / On Congo’s shore, the Cuban merchant’s word / Serves to send forth a thousand brigands bold” (125).

14.        Madden uses English as a marker of cultural and national difference in order to disentangle the process of his own literary translation of “bultos” into “slaves” from the mechanisms of credit that perform the transformation of these symbolic values into commodities. According to Madden, the Cuban merchant, the “proud” and “excellent Señor,” has a counterpart in the African agents who “foment the strife / of hostile tribes” (ll. 129-30) in order to obtain slaves, and not in the London merchants and bankers with whom the Cuban elite also transacted, as observed earlier. The word Señor, usually a title of respect, denotes the merchant’s cultural separateness with contempt, an othering that is enforced through the seamless continuity that the poem posits between the greed of the merchant and the violence of the African slavers. Greed thus becomes culturally othered, province of “The tribe of Cuban traders, linked in crime,” and geographically situated in “Havana and its joys” (ll. 191). The Señor and Cuban culture, including the Spanish language, belong to a world of corruption that the British abolitionist, by virtue of being an outsider, can denounce in English. He laments as much when he asks:

Is there no sacred minister of peace
To raise his voice, and bid these horrors cease?
No holy priest in all this ruthless clime,
To warn these men, or to denounce their crime?
No new Las Casas, to be found once more,
To leave his country for this blood-stained shore […]
Alas! No voice is raised in Cuba—save
To plead for bondage, and revile the slave […]
Some lone and weary pilgrim may have come,
And caused a voice to echo from his tomb.
("The Slave-Trade Merchant" ll. 133-48)
It is up to Madden to then become the agent who denounces, who warns, who becomes the “new Las Casas.” Madden thus invests British culture and the English language with moral authority, developing a parallel, if unstated, narrative of the British abolitionist as a virtuous figure who stands in opposition to his Cuban counterparts, the merchant and Manzano, who here is not counted among the voices that could “bid these horrors cease,” though his autobiography is included in the volume. Madden displays intense indignation on behalf of “human flesh”; “victims”; “human cargo”; “slaves”; “naked wretches”; “Specters of men”; and an anaphoric enumeration of nameless victims, “how many wretched beings,” “infants,” “defenseless mothers,” “struggling hands,” “sick,” “creatures,” and “negroes” (ll. 75-108). He catalogues the victims of slavery as a means of producing them to expose the merchant’s crime.

15.        Madden expands the cultural inscription of greed and cruelty as Cuban in “The Sugar Estate,” the companion poem to "The Slave-Trade Merchant," in which an English traveler narrates his journey from Havana through the Cuban countryside. He visits a plantation, where he enjoys the hospitality of a Cuban Conde [Count], and converses with him and the mayoral [overseer] regarding the state of Cuban slavery. What he finds there pales in comparison to “All to the charge of British planters laid . . . And yields the bad pre-eminence in crime / To Spanish guilt in ev’ry tropic clime” (69). The comparison with West Indian slavery, which has been abolished, contains a message of absolution that serves to reconstruct the national narrative of British slavery. According to Madden, British planters were not as bad as their Cuban or Spanish counterparts, since in Cuba “the grasping master must still have / Just thrice the produce from each working slave” (ll.93-4). Yet the contrast is more than moral; it also pits temporalities and national histories against one another. Madden locates the present of the Cuban plantation in relation to the guilty past of British slavery and the contemporaneity of post-abolition Britain. The play of temporal frames underscores the retrograde character of the Cuban system, whereas Britain’s historical edge corresponds with the moral leadership that abolitionists claim.

16.        The Conde combines the worst traits of British planters and aristocrats alike. Following James Montgomery, who calls the Creole planter “The bloated vampire of a living man” (l. 236), Madden defines the Conde as a figure whose ostentatious wealth, like the planter’s, points to the misery of the slaves under his control:

His house, his style of living, and address
Were all in keeping—showy to excess.
His conversation answered to his board,
Garnish of words and dishes in accord,
Abundant sweetmeats, olios, and ragouts,
Frieandeaus, fritters, harricots, and stews. (ll. 204-9)
The French turn of the Conde’s table, with its “ragouts” and “Frieandeaus,” offers a menu characterized by frivolity. The linking of the Conde’s appetite and “excess” invokes the sin of gluttony, and the identification between the bodies of enslaved laborers and consumption that an earlier wave of abolitionists, such as William Cowper and S.T. Coleridge, had popularized. [21]  The moral condemnation of the menu corresponds to the traveler’s abolitionist objections to the Conde’s arguments for slavery, which by 1840 had been popularized on both sides of the Atlantic. These included the relative well-being of slaves in comparison to the poor of other countries, the familial loyalty of slaves, and the planter’s insistence that the slaves would have been worse off in Africa.

17.        The Conde politely shows the traveler out after discovering his abolitionist sympathies; as he’s leaving the plantation, the traveler runs into the mayoral, who gladly corrects his impressions of Cuban slavery and inadvertently completes the portrait of the Conde’s dissipation. The mayoral, “almost frank and civil in his way,” (l. 56) focuses on the profit motive as the driving force behind slavery. “With twenty hours of unremitting toil . . . believe me few grow old, / but life is cheap, and sugar sir,—is gold . . . Our interest is to make the most we can / Of every negro in the shortest span” (ll. 163-70). He calmly explains how the “unremitting toil” of the enslaved laborers is directly connected to their high mortality rate, and the almost instant replacement of dead workers with new ones, implicating the United States in supplying Cuba with slaves. “There’s stock abundant in the slave bazaars, / Thanks to the banner of the stripes and stars” (l. 157-8). Family relationships are non-existent in what amounts to a sugar-cane gulag. There are no civil or religious marriages, and low birth rates are accompanied by infanticide “they [mothers] preferred to see / Their children dead before their face, ere they / Would give their young ‘negritos’ to the kind / Indulgent masters which they are said to find” (ll. 83-6). During the first part of the mayoral’s explanation, he details the use of whips, stocks, and other physical punishments with a precision and casualness that appear to leave the traveler speechless. As if to answer the traveler’s silence, the mayoral continues in a monologue, and attempts to distance himself from the daily cruelty he inflicts:

Think you, for us there’s profit in the gain
Wrung from the mortal agony and pain …
I would not care if ev’ry slave was free
And ev’ry planter too to toil compelled
We are their dogs, and worse than dogs are held …
Our despot does not live on his estate …
He finds Havana stored with ev’ry vice …
There he can stake a crop upon a card,
God help the negroes, if his luck is hard (ll.241-272 )
This passage is somewhat odd within abolitionist poetry which, in all the impersonations it offers, does not feature overseers as commentators on slavery. The mayoral argues that since he does not directly “profit,” he is exonerated from the pain he inflicts on the Conde’s behalf. The denial of his role would appear as rationalization were it not for his momentary identification with the powerlessness of the slaves, imagining a situation where the master is “to toil compelled.” This insubordinate and potentially revolutionary scenario is rooted in the mayoral’s resentment of the Conde’s gambling and dissipation in Havana, which results in heavier demands on him and the slaves he oversees. He recognizes that in being an instrument of the Conde, he is part of a system that is regulated by “oppression’s iron hand,” yet is unable to imagine himself outside of it.

18.        Though the traveler finds himself in a plantation, the slaves remain strikingly silent once again. Their only representation is through a brief allusion to Manzano. The indirect reference to Manzano illustrates the supplementary function that his narrative plays in connection to Madden’s framing poems. Describing “the proud Havana infamous renown” (l. 20), Madden notes “those ladies, foreigners, and all / Whose wretched negroes tremble at their call […] Their home spent passions and their smiling lips, / Their out-door meekness and their in-door whips” (ll. 33-8). The description is based on one of Manzano’s sequences of his tenure as a page for the Marquesa in Havana, where he attended her at tertulia and card tables. “Yo no me podia separar detras del espaldar de su taburete hasta la ora de partir que era por lo regular las dose de la noche … si en el inter duraba la tertulia me dormia si al ir detrás de la bolante por alguna casualidad se me apagaba el farol . . . yo iba a dormir al sepo” [I could not quit the side of her chair till midnight . . . If during the tertulia I fell asleep, or when behind the volante, if the lanthorn went out by accident . . . I was put up for the night in stocks] (Manzano, Obras, 15; Madden 86). Manzano’s account serves as corroboration for Madden and heightens the location of debt in the freed subject, just as interest is located in the body of the slave. Manzano’s account “cannot quit the side” of Madden’s poems, just as he could not leave the Marquesa at the playing table.

19.        Manzano’s text and its translation signify a relationship of usury that problematizes the revelatory paradigm of Madden’s condemnation and the forensic authority of the accusation of dissimulation that Madden levels at the merchant and the planter. The paradigm depends on the opposition of values between the merchant and the abolitionist, one in which the abolitionist favors the value of humanity over the Cuban merchant’s greed. This opposition results in a narrative of liberal values that eschew economic ones, and “put people first.” The writing of the merchant —the letters of credit that exchange for “merchandise” and expected returns in monetary interest— bears an economic value derived from the legal negation of the enslaved person as an agent and his or her economic exploitation through violence. Madden pits abolitionist writing against the merchant’s as writing that has a positive relationship to value as it affirms the enslaved person’s humanity morally and legally. Yet if the merchant’s letters of credit signify people as commodities and bearers of interest, Madden’s writing codifies the relationship of debt involved in “redemption.” The freedom of the enslaved subject therefore is also figured in terms of credit; once free, the former slave becomes a debtor to the “credit” that the establishment is willing to extend. Through Madden’s reconstruction of Manzano’s autobiography, Manzano’s freedom is construed in terms of its relationship to debt and the credit that Madden and Del Monte lend.

20.        Madden’s instinct to translate and elicit empathy for the suffering of Cuban slaves participates in the Romantic impulse to intervene that Lee identifies in the dialectic between humanitarianism and capitalism at the heart of the abolitionist movement (36). Yet with the end of the struggle for abolition, slaves were no longer the “Others” directly connected to Britain’s colonial apparatus in the West Indies who demanded such ethical commitments. Rather, slaves in Cuba, Brazil (and to a lesser degree the United States) were the Other once removed. In the new Atlantic economic order that demanded primary materials for the metropole, the labor of those Others was increasingly out of view. The liberation of British slaves made it easier for Britons to refigure their slaveholding past and distance themselves from connections to other slave-holding countries. In that climate, Madden returned to the stock characters of the “aged and shaking” abolitionist poetry and rhetoric: the cruel, primped, and pilfering creole planter; the exploited and exploiting overseer, the tortured slave—types that in 1840 seemed to belong to a distant past rather than the present, before presenting Manzano, an example of the last type.

21.        “Translation generates the comfortable expectation of stating a relative truth lighter than absolute truth: the claim to be truthful at least to the truth propounded in the source language,” suggests Tullio Maranhão (65). If Madden was “truthful at least” to the “truth” in Manzano’s original, it was in exposing the relations that made Manzano’s a twice trafficked life.

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[1] Turley adds: “However, these occasional tensions had been kept private until Robert and Samuel Wilberforce chose to make some of them public in the life of their father they published in 1838. In the view of private and public critics of the Wilberforce sons there was more than filopietism at issue in their charge that Clarkson claimed leadership in the cause when their father was entitled to it; they suggested that Clarkson had been to all intents and purposes an agent of the Abolition Committee. Sara Coleridge saw the Wilberforce sons claiming antislavery for their brand of Clapham evangelicalism against Clarkson’s historical interpretation which had literally offered a diagram of numerous branches contributing to the cause.” See David Turley, The Culture of English Antislavery, 1780-1860, (London: Routledge, 1991). BACK

[2] Richardson and Lee include the poems "Thirty Years" and "The Dream: Addressed to My Younger Brother." See Alan Richardson and Debbie Lee, eds., Early Black British Writing (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004) 308-313. BACK

[3] Domingo del Monte (1804-1853) was the leading literary critic of his time, counting among his circle José María Heredia, the author of "Niágara" (1824) and friend of William Cullen Bryant. Del Monte founded and edited the Revista bimestre cubana in the 1830s, and had wide contacts in the United States and Europe. BACK

[4] Manzano was still a slave during this period, but he was able to contract his labor with the Marquesa’s permission. BACK

[5] Literally “golden beak.” BACK

[6] For Manzano’s Spanish quotes, I use the spelling in Luciano Franco’s edition. The English translations are mine unless otherwise noted. BACK

[7] For British intervention in Latin America, see H.S. Ferns, Britain and Argentina in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1960); Robin Humphreys, British Merchants and South American Independence (London: Oxford UP 1965); Eugenia Roldán Vera, The British Book Trade and South America (London: Ashgate, 2003); Robert Aguirre, Informal Empire: Mexico and Central America in Victorian Culture (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2005); Luz Elena Ramírez, British Representations of Latin America (Gainesville: UP Florida, 2007); Rebecca Cole Heinowitz, Spanish America and Spanish Romanticism, 1776-1826 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2010). . BACK

[8] One of the priorities of British abolitionists at this time, as Thomas Clarkson reminded the Anti-Slavery Convention delegates, was to demonstrate that abolition was an economically sound proposition, and that a free market would reward “free men” and those who had liberated them. Clarkson stated “Now that this [worldwide abolition] is possible, that this may be done, there is no question. The East India Company alone can do it of themselves, and they can do it by means that are perfectly moral and pacific, according to your own principles, namely, by the cultivation of the earth and by the employment of free labour. They may, if they please, not only have the high honour of abolishing Slavery and the Slave Trade, but the advantage of increasing their revenue beyond all calculation; for, in the first place, they have land in their possession twenty times more than equal to the supply of all Europe with tropical produce; in the second place, they can procure, not tens of thousands, but tens of millions of free labourers to work; in the third place, what is of the greatest consequence in this case, the price of labour with these is only from a penny to three-halfpence per day. What slavery can stand against these prices?” [Emphasis Clarkson]. See Thomas Clarkson, The Opening of the General Anti-Slavery Convention (London: 1840) 2. “The tens of millions of free labourers to work” and “the advantage of increasing revenue beyond all calculation” drive the logic of Clarkson’s argument for humanitarian capitalism. Measured against the systematized violence of slave production, nearly next-to-nothing wages “only from a penny to three-halfpence a day” appear as just compensation for “free” labor. BACK

[9] See Catherine Hall, Civilizing Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830-1867 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002) 338-379. BACK

[10] The treaty “declared (Articles 1 and 2) the Spanish slave traffic abolished in all parts of the world, and promised that as soon as the treaty was ratified, Spain would adopt within two months the most efficacious measures against participation of her subjects in the slave trade. Article Three declared severe punishments for shipowners, captains, and crew members involved.” See Arthur Corwin, Spain and the Abolition of Slavery in Cuba, 1817-1886 (Austin: U of Texas P, 1967), 60-1. BACK

[11] Lorna Williams adds “The altered status of Manzano’s experience is clearly not due entirely to the process of translation, which can only be an approximation to the original, for Madden also exercises editorial judgment by suppressing family names, place names, and dates, thereby producing a less socially grounded text than Manzano seemingly intends.” See The Representation of Slavery in Cuban Fiction (Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1994) 32. BACK

[12] It is also a view shared by Fionnghuala Sweeny. “Though the text certainly underwent ideological conditioning in Madden’s hands, thereby exceeding the ethical debate typically invoked in Anglo-American narratives, Madden was after all a committed abolitionist, and a representative of British humanitarian interests in Cuba” (406). See "Atlantic Countercultres and the Networked Text: Juan Francisco Manzano, R.R. Madden, and the Cuban Slave Narrative," Forum for Modern Language Studies 40.4 (2004): 401-413. BACK

[13] Burton’s research uncovers a letter that Madden wrote in 1844 and the draft of an elegy he wrote after he wrongly believed Manzano had been killed in the Escalera conspiracy. In the letter, Madden wrote “I cannot tell you how grieved I am about poor Manzano, the Cuban poet. Many a time the poor fellow came to my house and talked over his trouble and those of his unfortunate tribe with me. I think there ought to be a monument erected in Jamaica as a man of the African race who was an honor to it and a victim to the tyranny of its oppressors.” Burton reads the letter and the poem as intense “involvement” on Madden’s part. See Gera Burton, Ambivalence and the Postcolonial Subject (New York: Peter Lang, 2004), 94-95. BACK

[14] In yet another ironic twist, Manzano gave the testimony that served to clear Del Monte from any charges. BACK

[15] For a discussion of how the Spanish version of the narrative frustrates the expectations of Anglo-American slave narrarratives, see Sweeny, "Atlantic Countercultures," 408-9. BACK

[16] The cover page from the Spanish Manuscript in the biblioteca Nacional José Martí reads “El esclavo Juan Francisco Manzano cultivó con las dificultades consiguientes a su condición la amistad del distinguido cubano Don Domingo Del Monte, á quien iban dirigidas las cartas que contiene este libro; Don Domingo Del Monte, interesado vivamente en favor del esclavo-poeta, promovió una una subscripción y [rescabó] la libertad de Juan Francisco Manzano mediante una suma de $850.00 que exigió su dueña. No sólo no se escribió la segunda parte de la biografía que se ofrece en la primera, si no que con su libertad perdió Manzano su dote de poeta.” See Manzano, Autobiografía: Manuscritos, CD-ROM (Cuba: Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Subdirección de Promoción y Desarrollo, Laboratorio Digital, 2006). BACK

[17] The signification of Equiano’s autobiography, as those of Mary Prince and Ottobah Cugoano, is then incorporated into the larger national narrative, as the commemorations of the abolition of the trade in Britain last year have done. For an example see the Abolition of the Slave Trade Bicentennial 2007, Greater London Authority, Mayor of London. 8 Oct 2008. BACK

[18] Manzano is said to have composed a second half to the narrative, one which Madden reported as lost. Yet even in discussing the lost manuscript, Madden returns to Del Monte as its source. “[The autobiography] was written in two parts—the second part fell into the hands of persons connected with his former master, and I fear it is not likely to be restored to the person to whom I am indebted for the first portion of this manuscript” See R.R. Madden, Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba, ed. Edward J. Mullen (Hamden: Archon Books, 1981) 39. BACK

[19] Financing for other projects continued throughout the century. John Hardy, British Consul in Havana in 1837 while Madden acted as Superintendent of Liberated Africans, intervened to get investment for the Sociedad Minera del Cobre, which introduced another railroad for mining interests in Cuba. Zanetti and García add “the first foreign loan in Cuban history, was contracted with the banking firm of Alexander Robertson who not only took care of the issue and placement of the bonds but also acted as agent for the Junta de Fomento (Development Board) in purchasing equipment and other railroad material. This first contract marked the beginning between Robertson and Cuban railroad companies that would extend itself over two decades . . . When the new railroads of Matanzas and Júcaro needed financial assistance, nothing was easier for them than to follow the path already taken by the Junta de Fomento and contract two loans with the Robertson bank.” 113-14 BACK

[20] Referring to the Zong massacre, Ian Baucom writes, “That the money truths of the transatlantic slave trade could attach themselves not only to the slaves who reached the markets of the Caribbean alive but also to those who drowned along the way; that a sufficiently credible imagination could see in a drowned slave a still existent, guaranteed, and exchangeable form of currency; that a British court could hold the majesty of the law to endorse this act of the imagination; that the attorneys for William Gregson and his partners could convince a jury that by drowning 132 of the Zong’s less desirable slaves into the sea Captain Hollingwood had not so much murdered a company of his fellows as hurried them into money, is also, as we shall see, unsurprising—perhaps even the inevitable consequence of that epistemological revolution (most commonly expressed as an accounting procedure) which had permitted Britain’s capital houses to convert ‘their’ slaves into paper money.” See Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History (Durham: Duke UP, 2005). BACK

[21] For an analysis of the figure of consumption in Colerige, Southey, Cowper, and More, and its relationship to cannibalism, see Timothy Morton, The Poetics of Spice: Romantic Consumerism and the Exotic (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000) 171-206. BACK