“Mr. Pope was with Sir Godfrey Kneller one day, when his nephew, a
‘I don’t know how great you may be (said the Guinea-Man), but I don’t like your looks: I have often bought a man, much better than both of you together, all muscles and bone, for ten guineas.’ ”
I was preparing classes on the following texts
chosen to illustrate some of the ways in which poets and verse writers joined in the campaigning for the abolition of slavery, leading up to the act passed 200 years ago today. I looked up ‘Guinea-Man’ in the OED (‘I sail’d on board a Guinea-man’, says the sailor stricken by conscience in Robert Southey’s ‘The Sailor, who had served in the slave trade’), and found that the dictionary had, among its illustrative quotations, this robust encounter, preserved in Joseph Spence’s Anecdotes.
I imagine that Kneller, was making a joke: with Pope as poetry, and himself as painting, his nephew had indeed happened into rarified company. The ‘Guinea Man’ has of course a rather different scheme of ideas about the worth of men.
The following site does indicate that Kneller had moments of self-conceitedness; the ODNB entry represents him as hard-working and relatively modest.
On the sporting side, I undertook this event this morning: ‘The Reading CC Hilly Torture 40’: actually 44.5 miles, with 5,177 feet of climbing woven into its insanely testing route. My fellow club member and RHUL academic, Dr John Wann, is all set to generate interesting statistics. We were all weighed, standing on electronic scales, holding our bicycles, beforehand and afterwards. The idea was (I think) to award some recognition for whoever managed to shed most weight. I confounded this clever scheme by apparently finishing weighing one kilo more than when I started. I toured round slowly (it took me a leisurely 3 hours and 20 minutes, for the climbs are so awful, that my tactic is to arrive at each one as fresh as possible). But my legs just got heavier and heavier, it seems. That’s certainly how they felt.