Introduction | British East India Company | The Trial of Warren Hastings | Sir William Jones | Blood Sugar | Mungo Park | Missionaries | Pantisocracy | Southey and Ireland | Oriental Tales | Orientalism

Blood Sugar

Blood Sugar was the name of a movement within the abolitionist culture of the early Romantic period which regularly deployed a specific metaphor that was used to advance the cause. While the British East India Company had created a cultural phenomenon with its importation of tea from the Orient, the Caribbean colonies such as Jamaica were primarily responsible for the use of sugar as a sweetener. And although many of the Company's actions in India were clearly exploitative and morally questionable, it was the fact that slave labor was the exclusive means of production in the sugar-raising Western hemisphere which drove abolitionists to develop the "blood sugar" trope.

Many poems and other writings deployed the idea that the ground on which sugar cane was raised was fertilized with the blood of African slaves. This image might provoke visceral disgust in the audience and encourage abstinence from sugar, and undermine the profitability of plantations by reducing demand. Used throughout the late 1780's, this tactic found its way into works by some major Romantic figures by the 1790's.

Coleridge used the theme in a 1795 address, in which he alleged capitalism itself was aligned with the inhumane goals and practices of colonialism. "Blood Sugar" in this case was the basis of a larger critique, rather than a specific deterrent to sugar consumption. His good friend and partner in the conception of the utopian Pantisocracy, Robert Southey, used the blood sugar image in sonnets from his poetry collection titled Poems on the Slave Trade. Although the abolition of slavery in British colonies did not take place until 1834, the presence of"blood sugar" in the early Romantic period is an important indicator of the growing public distaste for the oppressive practices of the early British Empire. The era is arguably a turning point in the methods and conception of imperial identity away from violent physical oppression towards the economic and political domination that characterize the Empire in the later 1800's.

Jody Dunville






Select Bibliography

Morton, Timothy. "Blood Sugar." in Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire 1780-1830. Tim
     Fulford and Peter J. Kitson, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.

Patton, L. and P. Mann, eds. The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vol. I (Lectures 1795 on Politics and
     Religion).
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971. Print.