‘The Mirror‐Shield of Knowledge’

Margaret Williamson

in Classics and Imperialism in the British Empire

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780199584727
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595301 | DOI:

Series: Classical Presences

‘The Mirror‐Shield of Knowledge’

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This chapter examines the use of classical allusion and quotation in Henry Nelson Coleridge's account of his travels in the British West Indies in 1825. It argues that his display of classical learning is important not so much for its content as for its implicit appeal to a restricted and exclusive audience: the male, upper‐class British elite. Coleridge tends to use classical allusion at points where his narrative records disturbing encounters. Among these are encounters with mulatto women, the product of unions between white slaveowners and black women. Coleridge's own attraction to them implicates him in a dynamic of cross‐racial desire, and thus potentially with miscegenation, which many at the time feared would undermine the racial distinctions underpinning slavery. In this context, classical allusion is a defensive gesture that reasserts Coleridge's own elite identity.

Keywords: Henry Nelson Coleridge; slavery; racial; desire; classical allusion; classical quotation; classical learning; miscegenation; elite; identity

Chapter.  6644 words. 

Subjects: Classical History

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