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Improvisations of empire : Thomas Pringle in Scotland, the Cape Colony and London, 1789-1834.

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This dissertation offers an extended examination of the writing of the 1820 Scottish settler Thomas Pringle. Though the primary focus of analysis is Pringle's poetry, the dissertation also engages extensively with Pringle's prose writing, particularly the Narrative ofa Residence in South Africa (1834), as well as the archival records of his personal and official correspondence. As the title suggests, the dissertation works through three distinct periods of Pringle's life, in each of which it locates different but related colonial postures or dispositions. In this schema, Pringle's Scottish writing is understood as obeisant to British cultural and linguistic norms, which it reproduces in a fashion that may be considered colonial in its deference to metropolitan standards. The Scottish context also provides Pringle with examples of people considered marginal to the developing modernity of the Scottish state (such as gypsies), who provide, I argue, baseline models for how Pringle will come to represent colonised indigenous peoples. In addition, the general principles of Scottish Enlightenment thought, in particular the four stages theory of historical development, supplied Pringle with a model within which to conceptualise the colonial state and its future evolution. Chapters two and three focus on Pringle's colonial career in the Cape Colony. Here I argue that Pringle's poetry of this period provides evidence of two distinct phases. In the first and most difficult period of settlement Pringle wrote poetry of troubled lyric interiority which reflected an incommensurable gap between colonial experience and the expressive expectations and conventions which he brought to it. Following his fallout with Governor Somerset and a de facto alliance with the mission humanitarians, Pringle's poetry moves away from a Romantic preoccupation with the self and begins to engage larger public issues, such as the treatment of indigenous people. In this mode, Pringle very often assumes an indigenous persona and I examine the extent to which such a gesture might be considered both appropriative and incipiently transcultural. As indicated earlier, I also examine the generic and representational models which might have informed Pringle's treatment of this subject. The chapters also consider Pringle's colonial politics, and emphasise that his reputation as a 'radical' is a misleading one; there are, furthermore, no easy conjunctures to be established between Pringle's allegedly radical politics and a radicalism of representation in his poetry (a commonplace critical assumption). In the final chapter I examine the complexities of Pringle's London years, which require that we bring into focus both his Scottish and his South African experience and their mediation by this new context. Here the broad focus of my argument is that we must take account not only of Pringle's standing as an abolitionist-humanitarian and Secretary to the high profile Anti-Slavery Society, but also his position as a respectable man of letters, particularly his role as editor of the influential but genteel 'annual', Friendship's Offering, from 1829-1835. These dual public roles reciprocated one another, I argue, in that Pringle's reputation as a poet of 'elegance' and 'taste' also lent credence to his reputation an ethically exemplary humanitarian. This reciprocation of roles is strongly evident in Pringle's best known poems of this period, «The Bechuana Boy" and «The Emigrant's Cabin", which rewrite colonial experience in a way that conforms to the expectations of his metropolitan readers. During his residence in London, Pringle also produced a number of poems in the subgenre of what could be described as evangelical redemptivism. These hortatory and proselytising pieces were mainly published in missionary magazines, and though South African in subject matter they could equally be set in any area of empire where mission work was being done. This subgenre I analyse as an offshoot of the extreme evangelical and abolitionist enthusiasms of the 1830s, with their belief in their divinely mandated mission to fully Christianise the British empire and emancipate all its subjects. In conclusion, this study argues for an understanding of Pringle's work as being intersected by differences in imperial location and status, as well as by a significant degree of instability and contradiction in its representation of the colonial project. Far from being cohered around a teleological liberal vision of an emancipated future, Pringle's work, both prose and poetry, repeatedly reveals a contradiction and contrariety that suggests fundamental irresolution rather than firm conviction.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2008.


Pringle, Thomas, 1789-1834., Pringle, Thomas, 1789-1834--Criticism and interpretation., Imperialism in literature., South African poetry (English)--History and criticism., Theses--English.