SLAVERY, A POEM.
1 IF Heaven has into being deign'd to call
2 Thy light, O LIBERTY! to shine on all;
3 Bright intellectual Sun! why does thy ray
4 To earth distribute only partial day?
5 Since no resisting cause from spirit flows
6 Thy penetrating essence to oppose;
7 No obstacles by Nature's hand imprest,
8 Thy subtle and ethereal beams arrest;
9 Nor motion's laws can speed thy active course,
10 Nor strong repulsion's pow'rs obstruct thy force;
11 Since there is no convexity in MIND,
12 Why are thy genial beams to parts confin'd? [Page 2]
13 While the chill North with thy bright ray is blest,
14 Why should fell darkness half the South invest?
15 Was it decreed, fair Freedom! at thy birth,
16 That thou shou'd'st ne'er irradiate all the earth?
17 While Britain basks in thy full blaze of light,
18 Why lies sad Afric quench'd in total night?
19 Thee only, sober Goddess! I attest,
20 In smiles chastis'd, and decent graces drest.
21 Not that unlicens'd monster of the crowd,
22 Whose roar terrific bursts in peals so loud,
23 Deaf'ning the ear of Peace: fierce Faction's tool;
24 Of rash Sedition born, and mad Misrule;
25 Whose stubborn mouth, rejecting Reason's rein,
26 No strength can govern, and no skill restrain;
27 Whose magic cries the frantic vulgar draw
28 To spurn at Order, and to outrage Law;[Page 3]
29 To tread on grave Authority and Pow'r,
30 And shake the work of ages in an hour:
31 Convuls'd her voice, and pestilent her breath,
32 She raves of mercy, while she deals out death:
33 Each blast is fate; she darts from either hand
34 Red conflagration o'er th' astonish'd land;
35 Clamouring for peace, she rends the air with noise,
36 And to reform a part, the whole destroys.
37 O, plaintive Southerne!*
* Author of the Tragedy of Oronoko. whose impassion'd strain
38 So oft has wak'd my languid Muse in vain!
39 Now, when congenial themes her cares engage,
40 She burns to emulate thy glowing page;
41 Her failing efforts mock her fond desires,
42 She shares thy feelings, not partakes thy fires.
43 Strange pow'r of song! the strain that warms the heart
44 Seems the same inspiration to impart;[Page 4]
45 Touch'd by the kindling energy alone,
46 We think the flame which melts us is our own;
47 Deceiv'd, for genius we mistake delight,
48 Charm'd as we read, we fancy we can write.
49 Tho' not to me, sweet Bard, thy pow'rs belong,
50 Fair Truth, a hallow'd guide! inspires my song.
51 Here Art wou'd weave her gayest flow'rs in vain,
52 For Truth the bright invention wou'd disdain.
53 For no fictitious ills these numbers flow,
54 But living anguish, and substantial woe;
55 No individual griefs my bosom melt,
56 For millions feel what Oronoko felt:
57 Fir'd by no single wrongs, the countless host
58 I mourn, by rapine dragg'd from Afric's coast.
59 Perish th' illiberal thought which wou'd debase
60 The native genius of the sable race! [Page 5]
61 Perish the proud philosophy, which sought
62 To rob them of the pow'rs of equal thought!
63 Does then th' immortal principle within
64 Change with the casual colour of a skin?
65 Does matter govern spirit? or is mind
66 Degraded by the form to which 'tis join'd?
67 No: they have heads to think, and hearts to feel,
68 And souls to act, with firm, tho' erring zeal;
69 For they have keen affections, kind desires,
70 Love strong as death, and active patriot fires;
71 All the rude energy, the fervid flame,
72 Of high-soul'd passion, and ingenuous shame:
73 Strong, but luxuriant virtues boldly shoot
74 From the wild vigour of a savage root.
75 Nor weak their sense of honour's proud control,
76 For pride is virtue in a Pagan soul;[Page 6]
77 A sense of worth, a conscience of desert,
78 A high, unbroken haughtiness of heart;
79 That self-same stuff which erst proud empires sway'd,
80 Of which the conquerors of the world were made.
81 Capricious fate of man! that very pride
82 In Afric scourg'd, in Rome was deify'd.
83 No Muse, O*
* It is a point of honour among negroes of a high spirit to die rather than to suffer their glossy skin to bear the mark of the whip. Qua-shi had somehow offended his master, a young planter with whom he had been bred up in the endearing intimacy of a play-fellow. His services had been faithful; his attachment affectionate. The master resolved to punish him, and pursued him for that purpose. In trying to escape Qua-shi stumbled and fell; the master fell upon him: they wrestled long with doubtful victory; at length Qua-shi got uppermost, and, being firmly seated on his master's breast, he secured his legs with one hand, and with the other drew a sharp knife; then said,Master, I have been bred up with you from a child; I have loved you as myself: in return, you have condemned me to a punishment of which I must ever have borne the marks: thus only I can avoid them;so saying, he drew the knife with all his strength across his own throat, and sell down dead, without a groan, on his master's body. Ramsay's Essay on the Treatment of African Slaves. Qua-shi! shall thy deeds relate,
84 No statue snatch thee from oblivious fate! [Page 7]
85 For thou wast born where never gentle Muse
86 On Valour's grave the flow'rs of Genius strews;
87 And thou wast born where no recording page
88 Plucks the fair deed from Time's devouring rage.
89 Had Fortune plac'd thee on some happier coast,
90 Where polish'd souls heroic virtue boast,
91 To thee, who sought'st a voluntary grave,
92 Th' uninjur'd honours of thy name to save,
93 Whose generous arm thy barbarous Master spar'd,
94 Altars had smok'd, and temples had been rear'd.
95 Whene'er to Asric's shores I turn my eyes,
96 Horrors of deepest, deadliest guilt arise;[Page 8]
97 I see, by more than Fancy's mirror shewn,
98 The burning village, and the blazing town:
99 See the dire victim torn from social life,
100 The shrieking babe, the agonizing wife!
101 She, wretch forlorn! is dragg'd by hostile hands,
102 To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands!
103 Transmitted miseries, and successive chains,
104 The sole sad heritage her child obtains!
105 Ev'n this last wretched boon their foes deny,
106 To weep together, or together die.
107 By felon hands, by one relentless stroke,
108 See the fond links of feeling Nature broke!
109 The fibres twisting round a parent's heart,
110 Torn from their grasp, and bleeding as they part.
111 Hold, murderers, hold! nor aggravate distress;
112 Respect the passions you yourselves possess;[Page 9]
113 Ev'n you, of ruffian heart, and ruthless hand,
114 Love your own offspring, love your native land.
115 Ah! leave them holy Freedom's cheering smile,
116 The heav'n-taught fondness for the parent soil;
117 Revere affections mingled with our frame,
118 In every nature, every clime the same;
119 In all, these feelings equal sway maintain;
120 In all the love of HOME and FREEDOM reign:
121 And Tempe's vale, and parch'd Angola's sand,
122 One equal fondness of their sons command.
123 Th' unconquer'd Savage laughs at pain and toil,
124 Basking in Freedom's beams which gild his native soil.
125 Does thirst of empire, does desire of fame,
126 (For these are specious crimes) our rage inflame?
127 No: sordid lust of gold their fate controls,
128 The basest appetite of basest souls;[Page 10]
129 Gold, better gain'd, by what their ripening sky,
130 Their fertile fields, their arts*
* Besides many valuable productions of the soil, cloths and carpets of exquisite manufacture are brought from the coast of Guinea. and mines supply.
131 What wrongs, what injuries does Oppression plead
132 To smooth the horror of th' unnatural deed?
133 What strange offence, what aggravated sin?
134 They stand convicted — of a darker skin!
135 Barbarians, hold! th' opprobrious commerce spare,
136 Respect his sacred image which they bear:
137 Tho' dark and savage, ignorant and blind,
138 They claim the common privilege of kind;
139 Let Malice strip them of each other plea,
140 They still are men, and men shou'd still be free.
141 Insulted Reason loaths th' inverted trade —
142 Dire change! the agent is the purchase made! [Page 11]
143 Perplex'd, the baffled Muse involves the tale;
144 Nature confounded, well may language fail!
145 The outrag'd Goddess with abhorrent eyes
146 Sees MAN the traffic, SOULS the merchandize!
147 Plead not, in reason's palpable abuse,
148 Their sense of*
* Nothing is more frequent than this cruel and stupid argument, that they do not feel the miseries inflicted on them as Europeans would do. feeling callous and obtuse:
149 From heads to hearts lies Nature's plain appeal,
150 Tho' few can reason, all mankind can feel.
151 Tho' wit may boast a livelier dread of shame,
152 A loftier sense of wrong refinement claim;
153 Tho' polish'd manners may fresh wants invent,
154 And nice distinctions nicer souls torment;
155 Tho' these on finer spirits heavier fall,
156 Yet natural evils are the same to all. [Page 12]
157 Tho' wounds there are which reason's force may heal,
158 There needs no logic sure to make us feel.
159 The nerve, howe'er untutor'd, can sustain
160 A sharp, unutterable sense of pain;
161 As exquisitely fashion'd in a slave,
162 As where unequal fate a sceptre gave.
163 Sense is as keen where Congo's sons preside,
164 As where proud Tiber rolls his classic tide.
165 Rhetoric or verse may point the feeling line,
166 They do not whet sensation, but define.
167 Did ever slave less feel the galling chain,
168 When Zeno prov'd there was no ill in pain?
169 Their miseries philosophic quirks deride,
170 Slaves groan in pangs disown'd by Stoic pride.
171 When the fierce Sun darts vertical his beams,
172 And thirst and hunger mix their wild extremes;[Page 13]
173 When the sharp iron*
* This is not said figuratively. The writer of these lines has seen a complete set of chains, fitted to every separate limb of these unhappy, innocent men; together with instruments for wrenching open the jaws, contrived with such ingenious cruelty as would shock the humanity of an inquisitor. wounds his inmost soul,
174 And his strain'd eyes in burning anguish roll;
175 Will the parch'd negro find, ere he expire,
176 No pain in hunger, and no heat in fire?
177 For him, when fate his tortur'd frame destroys,
178 What hope of present fame, or future joys?
179 For this, have heroes shorten'd nature's date;
180 For that, have martyrs gladly met their fate;
181 But him, forlorn, no hero's pride sustains,
182 No martyr's blissful visions sooth his pains;
183 Sullen, he mingles with his kindred dust,
184 For he has learn'd to dread the Christian's trust;[Page 14]
185 To him what mercy can that Pow'r display,
186 Whose servants murder, and whose sons betray?
187 Savage! thy venial error I deplore,
188 They are not Christians who infest thy shore.
189 O thou sad spirit, whose preposterous yoke
190 The great deliverer Death, at length, has broke!
191 Releas'd from misery, and escap'd from care,
192 Go, meet that mercy man deny'd thee here.
193 In thy dark home, sure refuge of th' oppress'd,
194 The wicked vex not, and the weary rest.
195 And, if some notions, vague and undefin'd,
196 Of future terrors have assail'd thy mind;
197 If such thy masters have presum'd to teach,
198 As terrors only they are prone to preach;
199 (For shou'd they paint eternal Mercy's reign,
200 Where were th' oppressor's rod, the captive's chain?) [Page 15]
201 If, then, thy troubled soul has learn'd to dread
202 The dark unknown thy trembling footsteps tread;
203 On HIM, who made thee what thou art, depend;
204 HE, who withholds the means, accepts the end.
205 Not thine the reckoning dire of LIGHT abus'd,
206 KNOWLEDGE disgrac'd, and LIBERTY misus'd;
207 On thee no awful judge incens'd shall sit
208 For parts perverted, and dishonour'd wit.
209 Where ignorance will be found the surest plea,
210 How many learn'd and wise shall envy thee!
211 And thou, WHITE SAVAGE! whether lust of gold,
212 Or lust of conquest, rule thee uncontrol'd!
213 Hero, or robber! — by whatever name
214 Thou plead thy impious claim to wealth or fame;
215 Whether inferior mischiefs be thy boast,
216 A petty tyrant rifling Gambia's coast:[Page 16]
217 Or bolder carnage track thy crimson way,
218 Kings dispossess'd, and Provinces thy prey;
219 Panting to tame wide earth's remotest bound;
220 All Cortez murder'd, all Columbus found;
221 O'er plunder'd realms to reign, detested Lord,
222 Make millions wretched, and thyself abhorr'd; —
223 In Reason's eye, in Wisdom's fair account,
224 Your sum of glory boasts a like amount;
225 The means may differ, but the end's the same;
226 Conquest is pillage with a nobler name.
227 Who makes the sum of human blessings less,
228 Or sinks the stock of general happiness,
229 No solid same shall grace, no true renown,
230 His life shall blazon, or his memory crown.
231 Had those advent'rous spirits who explore
232 Thro' ocean's trackless wastes, the far-sought shore;[Page 17]
233 Whether of wealth insatiate, or of pow'r,
234 Conquerors who waste, or ruffians who devour:
235 Had these possess'd, O COOK! thy gentle mind,
236 Thy love of arts, thy love of humankind;
237 Had these pursued thy mild and liberal plan,
238 DISCOVERERS had not been a curse to man!
239 Then, bless'd Philanthropy! thy social hands
240 Had link'd dissever'd worlds in brothers bands;
241 Careless, if colour, or if clime divide;
242 Then, lov'd, and loving, man had liv'd, and died.
243 The purest wreaths which hang on glory's shrine,
244 For empires founded, peaceful PENN! are thine;
245 No blood-stain'd laurels crown'd thy virtuous toil,
246 No slaughter'd natives drench'd thy fair-earn'd soil.
247 Still thy meek spirit in thy*
* The Quakers have emancipated all their slaves throughout America. flock survives,
248 Consistent still, their doctrines rule their lives;[Page 18]
249 Thy followers only have effac'd the shame
250 Inscrib'd by SLAVERY on the Christian name.
251 Shall Britain, where the soul of Freedom reigns,
252 Forge chains for others she herself disdains?
253 Forbid it, Heaven! O let the nations know
254 The liberty she loves she will bestow;
255 Not to herself the glorious gift confin'd,
256 She spreads the blessing wide as humankind;
257 And, scorning narrow views of time and place,
258 Bids all be free in earth's extended space.
259 What page of human annals can record
260 A deed so bright as human rights restor'd?
261 O may that god-like deed, that shining page,
262 Redeem OUR fame, and consecrate OUR age!
263 And see, the cherub Mercy from above,
264 Descending softly, quits the sphere of love! [Page 19]
265 On feeling hearts she sheds celestial dew,
266 And breathes her spirit o'er th' enlighten'd few;
267 From soul to soul the spreading influence steals,
268 Till every breast the soft contagion feels.
269 She bears, exulting, to the burning shore
270 The loveliest office Angel ever bore;
271 To vindicate the pow'r in Heaven ador'd,
272 To still the clank of chains, and sheathe the sword;
273 To cheer the mourner, and with soothing hands
274 From bursting hearts unbind th' Oppressor's bands;
275 To raise the lustre of the Christian name,
276 And clear the foulest blot that dims its fame.
277 As the mild Spirit hovers o'er the coast,
278 A fresher hue the wither'd landscapes boast;
279 Her healing smiles the ruin'd scenes repair,
280 And blasted Nature wears a joyous air. [Page 20]
281 She spreads her blest commission from above,
282 Stamp'd with the sacred characters of love;
283 She tears the banner stain'd with blood and tears,
284 And, LIBERTY! thy shining standard rears!
285 As the bright ensign's glory she displays,
286 See pale OPPRESSION faints beneath the blaze!
287 The giant dies! no more his frown appals,
288 The chain untouch'd, drops off; the fetter falls.
289 Astonish'd echo tells the vocal shore,
290 Oppression's fall'n, and Slavery is no more!
291 The dusky myriads crowd the sultry plain,
292 And hail that mercy long invok'd in vain.
293 Victorious Pow'r! she bursts their two-fold bands,
294 And FAITH and FREEDOM spring from Mercy's hands,