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Juan Francisco Manzano, 1797-1854 and Richard Robert Madden, 1798-1886
Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba, Recently Liberated; Translated from the Spanish, by R. R. Madden, M.D. With the History of the Early Life of the Negro Poet, Written by Himself; to Which Are Prefixed Two Pieces Descriptive of Cuban Slavery and the Slave-Traffic, by R. R. M.
London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1840.


Poems by a Slave (1840) contains a narrative and poems written by Juan Francisco Manzano (1797-1853). Manzano was born a slave in Cuba and is considered one of the founders of Cuban literature. He is the only slave in Spanish American history to achieve success as a writer. According to the narrative, he experienced a relatively easy, carefree childhood. As a youth, Manzano suffered the trials and horrors of slavery, and descriptions of several of his most difficult experiences comprise the bulk of his account. The narrative concludes with a brief synopsis of his successful escape from slavery. Some time after writing his autobiography in 1835, he was falsely accused of participating in an anti-slavery conspiracy and imprisoned for a year. After that, Manzano never wrote again.

In addition to Manzano's poetry and narrative, Poems by a Slave includes a collection of anti-slavery materials compiled by Dr. Richard Robert Madden (1798- 1886). Madden was born and died in Dublin, Ireland, but spent much of his life studying, traveling, and working in Paris, London, Naples, Jamaica, Cuba, Africa, and Australia. A zealous abolitionist and reformer, Dr. Madden translated Manzano's narrative and poetry from the Spanish edition in 1840.

To introduce the text, Dr. Madden included a preface and two of his own lengthy poems, one on the topic of slave traders, and the other on the evils of Cuban slavery. Manzano's narrative and a few of his poems follow Dr. Madden's contributions. The appendix includes two interviews between Dr. Madden and two unidentified Cuban gentlemen; one examines the subject of Cuban slavery and the other concerns the state of Cuban religion. Several other essays discuss the broad subjects of slavery and religion. A glossary of Creole terms completes the collection.

Works Consulted: Boylan, Henry, ed., Dictionary of Irish Biography, Dublin, Ireland: Gill and MacMillan, 1998; Tenenbaum, Barbara, ed., Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 3, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1996; Welch, Robert, ed., The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Monique Prince

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