Krise, ed. Caribbeana: An Anthology of English Literature of the West Indies,
1657-1777. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. xii + 358 pp., map. ISBN 0226453928.
This is a collection of thirteen literary selections reflecting British experience, opinion and impressions from their West Indian colonies. Krise has chosen not to include the narratives of explorers and adventurers whose contacts were often of a military nature. Nor does he present texts which reflected rivalry with other imperial powers. He has set his focus on established and developing colonial societies and economies which were relatively isolated from imperial conflict. He notes the absence of English Caribbean literature from most Anglo-American anthologies, and he has chosen complete or large parts of a limited number of little-known texts in preference to smaller excerpts from a large number of selections. In doing so he has given a greater depth to the issues he encounters in the texts, providing the reader with greater satisfaction as to the wholeness of what the text is about. Further assistance in this direction is provided in informative introductions to each of the texts, noting identity of the authors and the context of each of the items included.
In his general introduction Krise makes clear that he is not attempting anything approaching completeness, intentionally omitting some longer and well-known texts. In this he makes obvious his desire to reflect diversity of experience and insight among the settlers and slave population of the British island colonies of Barbados, Jamaica, and the Leeward Islands. Some readers may see in this a reach for political correctness, but it is refreshing to read a slave’s point of view, to sense the earliest rumblings of the anti-slavery movement among the white population, and to hear the voices of eighteenth-century women as well as the opinions of the dominant figures in these island colonial societies.
While one might contend that this or that subject is not adequately represented, the thirteen selections do cover a wide range. The first item, from Richard Ligon’s A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (1657), clearly delineates the structure of society between master, servant and slave. It does not, however, include descriptions of “the Principall Trees and Plants” announced in the title of Ligon’s book. This bias in favor of civil versus natural history prevails throughout the anthology. It is more literary and social than scientific in content. Richard Hickeringill’s Jamaica Viewed (1661) has some natural history but gives way to poetry for the most part. Thomas Tryon’s Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen Planters of the East and West Indies (1684) also contains some account of West Indian plants, but its main thrust is an anti-slavery critique from a Quaker point of view. Edward Ward’s A Trip to Jamaica (1698) is a journalistic satire on Jamaican planter society (“a broken apothecary will make there a Topping Physician…”) which enjoyed great popularity in England, more presumably for its literary style than factual content.
Two anonymous anti-slavery pieces in the collection are A Speech made by a Black of Guardeloupe (ca. 1700) and The Speech of Moses Bon Sàam (1735) which present the deplorable state of the African slave in the British Caribbean colonies. The latter is replied to in The Speech of Mr. John Talbot Campo-Bell (1736) by Robert Robertson, a white advocate of slavery. Poetry relating to Caribbean life is presented in Frances Seymour’s The Story of Inkle and Yarico (1738), a popular legend of the West Indies, and in Poems from the Caribbean (1741) by an anonymous “Ingenious Lady”, apparently from Barbados. The longest selection in the anthology is James Granger’s The Sugar Cane: a Poem in Four Books (1764), done in the style of Vergil’s Georgica, which describes in great detail the culture of sugar cane and the manufacture of sugar. Granger’s footnotes to this poem are most informative of many aspects of sugar culture.
The emphasis on poetry is carried further in John Singleton’s A General Description of the West Indian Islands (1767), which reflects his travels and carries a strong anti-slavery view. A poetic response to anti-slavery opinion is presented in Carmen, or an Ode by Francis Williams, published in Edward Long’s A History of Jamaica (1774). The final selection in the anthology is another anti-slavery poem, anonymously written, Jamaica, a Poem (ca. 1777).
From all of the above it is apparent that the emphasis of this anthology is more literary than historical or descriptive, and that it is strongly oriented to the issue of slavery. As a collection reflecting that emphasis it is excellent, and it is edited with care, including an introduction and extensive notes to the texts. The book’s faults lie in the publisher’s domain: the type is too closely set and does not stand out on the page; the notes are set in a very small type; the map is too small and too faint to make it of any use. A publisher of university press caliber should do better by its authors and its readers. Despite these shortcomings this anthology will be useful to students of Caribbean culture.