Chief ends of human
existence, it followed that men, women, and children must be stolen to
the end of time.
Some good people, when they now and then heard an appalling story of
the cruelties practised in the slave ship, declared that it was really
too bad, sympathetically remarked, "What a sorrowful world we live
in!" stirred their sugar into their tea, and went on as before,
because, what was there to do? - "Hadn't every body always done it? and
if they didn't do it, wouldn't somebody else?"
It is true that for many years individuals at different times had
remonstrated, written treatises, poems, stories, and movements had
been made by some religious bodies, particularly the Quakers, but the
opposition had amounted to nothing practically efficient.
The attention of Clarkson was first turned to the subject by having it
given out as the theme for a prize composition in his college class,
he being at that time a sprightly young man, about twenty-four years
of age. He entered into the investigation with no other purpose than
to see what he could make of it as a college theme.
He says of himself, "I had expected pleasure from the invention of
arguments, from the arrangement of them, from the putting of them
together, and from the thought, in the interim, that I was engaged in
an innocent contest for literary honor; but all my pleasures were
damped by the facts which were now continually before me."
"It was but one gloomy subject from morning till night; in the daytime
I was uneasy, in the night I had little rest; I sometimes never closed
my eyelids for grief."
It became not now so much a trial for academical reputation as to
write a work which should be useful to Africa.