Eighteenth Century

The Rhetorical Strategies of Thomas Pringle’s “Supplement to the History of Mary Prince”

Merely judging Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince by the cover, when I saw Thomas Pringle’s “Supplement to the History of Mary Prince,” included in the back of my edition, I was curious to whether he would try to affirm or refute her narrative, and since I read hers before his Preface, I began his Supplement assuming the worst. Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised and discovered two important rhetorical strategies.

First, last week we discussed Equiano’s strategy of appealing to the English’s pride particularly in education, and Mr. Pringle repeatedly employs this when he enables the reader to develop his or her own opinion. For example, the way he introduces his article: “leaving Mary’s narrative . . . without comment to the reader’s reflections,” means that he will not begin by trying to persuade us in any particular way, and he does succeed since he relates her history rather than a specific argument in the first few pages (35). That is, he skillfully introduces his thesis by giving the reader background information that will lead us to a shared conclusion. Therefore, when Mr. Pringle states his thesis: “Let us now endeavor to estimate the validity of the excuses assigned, and the allegations advanced by [Mr. Wood] . . .” we, similarly, should be, first, wondering why he was making such terrible allegations against Mary, and, second, be already suspecting that Mr. Wood’s letter is deceptive, which reinforces Mary’s description of him being a liar and manipulator (41). In fact, the funniest part of Mr. Pringle’s article is when he ironically observes, “at present it appears somewhat difficult to say which side of the alternative is the more creditable to his own character” (44). In other words, in Mr. Wood’s letter, the numerous contradictions and nonsensical arguments he makes causes Mr. Pringle to joke that Mary’s description is actually the more flattering of the two.

Second, Mr. Pringle uses the Anti-Slavery Society as a tool to “other” Mr. Wood from both British society and himself. For example, Mr. Pringle speculates, “if the pleasure of thwarting the benevolent wishes of the Anti-Slavery Society in behalf of the deserted negro, be an additional motive with Mr. Wood, it will not much mend his wretched plea” (55). That is, if he wants to go against the Society, not only will he not help his own hopeless situation, but he will also distance himself from those people who are part of the Society, and since anti-slavery sentiment was growing rapidly, Mr. Wood would soon find himself against the majority of British society. Likewise, by mentioning the Society, Mr. Pringle others Mr. Wood on a personal level since the former was the Secretary, thus a prominent member, of the Anti-Slavery Society (55, 2).

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