Of Commerce, Empire, and the Banality of Evil
This section provides an interpretive hypothesis for the veritable caesura in Edward Rushton’s political agenda and, consistently, poetic language, which can be appreciated between his earliest published poetry – notably, The Dismember’d Empire (1782) – and his anti-slavery collection of West Indian Eclogues (1787). The crucial impact on public opinion of the Zong case (1783) is discussed as a possible catalyst for this major change in Rushton’s politics and writing. The wilful murder of 132 human beings who were thrown overboard alive resulted in litigation between the proprietors of the ship – including the Liverpool ship-owners Gregsons, to whom Rushton had been apprenticed at the age of ten – and the insurers, which exposed not only the inherent horror of the fact per se, but also the upsetting ethical paradox underlying the logic of finance capital. This section makes the case for its relevance in Rushton’s political elaboration on the basis of chronological and indirect evidence, and attempts to reconstruct some textual traces to support this construal, by appealing to the pivotal role played by the then Bishop of Chester Beilby Porteus. The ‘Interlude’ provides the basis for the three chapters that follow, which consider the key texts in Rushton’s anti-slavery corpus.
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