Thomas Pringle, a Scottish journalist and poet, is best known to Anglo-American scholarship for his role as editor of the first black female slave narrative to be published in Britain, The History of Mary Prince (1834). Pringle had lived in the Cape Colony from 1820 to 1826, however, and produced an important body of work that is not well known outside South Africa. The central argument of this essay is that the poem "The Bechuana Boy" (first published in 1830) has not yet been recognized as a significant precursor text of the History, even though it helps us locate the narrative as informed by a structure of thought already present in Pringle's work. I examine in particular the way in which the poem engages the notion of sympathy, especially as this derives from Adam Smith's conceptualization in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Such metropolitan notions meet their limits in the colonized subject, who may only access the circuits of sympathy by divesting himself of indigenous selfhood. In comparing "The Bechuana Boy" and The History of Mary Prince, I draw attention to shared structural and thematic features and elaborate on the affinities between these works despite their generic and other differences. The essay concludes by offering a further brief comparison between the History and Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative (1789). Working with Gayatri Spivak's notion of the "native informant," I argue that the works under examination display similarities in their understanding of the protocols governing the admission of the native informant to mainstream public discourse.
- ©© 2009 by The Regents of the University of California