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John Bartlett (1820–1905). Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. 1919.

4503 William Cowper 1731-1800 John Bartlett

AUTHOR:William Cowper (1731–1800)
QUOTATION:Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are free!
They touch our country, and their shackles fall. 1
ATTRIBUTION:The Task. Book ii. The Timepiece, Line 40.
Note 1.
Servi peregrini, ut primum Galliæ fines penetraverint eodem momento liberi sunt (Foreign slaves, as soon as they come within the limits of Gaul, that moment they are free).—Bodinus: Liber i. c. 5.

Lord Campbell (“Lives of the Chief Justices,” vol. ii. p. 418) says that “Lord Mansfield first established the grand doctrine that the air of England is too pure to be breathed by a slave.” The words attributed to Lord Mansfield, however, are not found in his judgment. They are in Hargrave’s argument, May 14, 1772, where he speaks of England as “a soil whose air is deemed too pure for slaves to breathe in.”—Lofft: Reports, p. 2. [back]