1902 Encyclopedia > Bryan Edwards

Bryan Edwards
English historian of the West Indies

BRYAN EDWARDS, (1743-1800), the well-known historian ol the West Indies, was born at Westbury, in Wiltshire, on the 21st of May 1743. His father died in 1756, and his education and maintenance were undertaken by his maternal uncle, Zachary Bayly, a wealthy West Indian merchant. He had been placed by his father at the school of a dissenting clergyman in Bath, where he received a careful training in English composition ; his uncle's agent, however, removed him to a French boarding school, on discovering that he had received no instruction in classics. Edwards went out to Jamaica to join his uncle, iu whom he seems to have found everything he could desire,—the most enlightened mind, the sweetest temper, and the most generous disposition. To this was added a truly paternal regard for himself, which was returned with all the warmth of filial affection. His uncle, finding him possessed of literary talents, but deficient in classical acquirements, engaged a Mr Teale, a clergyman and formerly master of a free grammar-school, as resident tutor for him. The relationship proved a very agreeable one to both teacher and pupil, though the training imparted was somewhat fragmentary. A large proportion of their time was spent in tasting the beauties of Dryden and Pope, and in laughing at the comic sallies of Molière. Edwards, upon the whole, acquired during this period small Latin and less Greek ; but he continued to practise composition both in prose and verse, and the two companions sent occasional pieces to the colonial newspapers. On the death of his uncle Edwards succeeded to his property; and, in 1773, he became heir to the much larger estate of Mr Hume, also of Jamaica. In 1784 he published Thoughts on the Proceed-ings of Government respecting the Trade of the West Indian Islands with the United States of America. This was followed by a speech delivered at a free conference between the Council and Assembly at Jamaica, held November 25, 1789, on the subject of Wilberforce's propositions con-cerning the slave trade. It was in 1793, however, that he published his great work, on which he had been many years engaged, entitled History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies, 2 vols. 4to. On the question of slavery and the slave trade he naturally took the planter's view, but he expressed himself with modera-tion and candour. In 1796 he published, in one volume quarto, a History of St Domingo, which bad then excited a deep interest, on account of the insurrection of the slaves, and the consequent establishment of an independent negro government. In 1801 a new edition of both these works was published, in three vols. 8vo, under the general title of History of the West Indies. A fifth edition issued from the press in the year 1819. When Mungo Park returned from his celebrated journey in Africa, Edwards, from his oral information, drew up a report of it, which was sub-mitted to the African Society, and published in their Transactions. Park afterwards incorporated the greater part of this into the general narrative of his Travels, in preparing which he availed himself much of the assistance and suggestions of Edwards. After a lengthened residence in Jamaica Edwards returned to England, and in 1796 became M.P. for the borough of Grampound, which he continued to represent till his death, July 15, 1800. He left a short narrative of his life, which was prefixed to the edition of his history published in 1801.

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