Home Slavery Resources British Abolitionists Olaudah Equiano Ignatius Sancho Ottobah Cugoano Naturalists Places Bookshop Contact About



W R O N G S   OF   A F R I C A,

A   P O E M.



L O N D O N:




IT must afford pleasure to every benevolent mind to observe, that the progress of knowledge, while it improves the understanding, leads to the establishment of virtue, freedom, and happiness. A great area is opening on the earth; discoveries in science are very rapidly increasing the power, amending the condition, and enlarging the views of mankind; and the close of the eighteenth, like that of the fifteenth century, will probably be marked in future times, as a period in which a sudden accession of light burst upon the human mind. Happily those important truths which are the result of reason and reflection, are no longer confined to

ii      P  R  E  F  A  C  E.

the recesses of philosophy; they have spread widely into society, and begin to influence the councils of statesmen, and the conduct of nations.

   Hence it is not improbable, that the principles of political science may soon undergo an universal change; that probity and good faith may take place of fraud and chicanery in the intercourse of states; contiguity of situation prove the source of friendship instead of hostility between nations; and hatred and bloodshed be exchanged for confidence and peace. Such must be the consequences, when the laws of truth and justice, which are imposed on the transactions of individuals, shall be extended to the conduct of governments towards each other, where kingdoms are at stake, and the happiness of millions involved in the issue.

   But though many agreeable effects will most probably flow from this important change, there are other consequences that may ensue, which are greatly

P  R  E  F  A  C  E.      iii

to be dreaded. The spirit of trade may degrade the national character, and endanger our sacrificing the principles of justice and the feelings of humanity to the acquirement of wealth. It becomes us therefore to guard against the introduction of those base and sordid maxims which represent every thing as fair that is lucrative, and separate infamy from villany, provided it be successful.

   Britain has been highly favoured of heaven in all the gifts of nature and the acquisitions of art; and the temple of Liberty, first reared by the labour, and cemented by the blood, of our ancestors, has now its foundations eternally fixed on the basis of science and philosophy. But the principles on which the liberties of Britain are established, are of universal application, and may one day extend from the centre of this island to the extremities of the earth.

   It is time for those who direct the councils of the nation to turn their eyes on the trade to Africa—

iv      P  R  E  F  A  C  E.

This traffic in the human species, which is so direct and daring an infringement of every principle of liberty and justice, has attracted the public notice—The more it is examined, the more horrid it will appear; and the voice of reason, aided by the natural feelings of the human heart, must sooner or later atchieve its overthrow. But it becomes a wise legislature to interfere without delay; the subject is of deep importance, and calls loudly for the immediate exertions of patriotism and virtue. It would be no difficult matter to shew, that the trade which the Europeans on for slaves to Guinea, is the foundation of almost all the miseries which the negroes endure in their own country, as well as in the sugar islands. Those dreadful wars which spread from the shores of the Atlantic to the eastern extremity of Africa, are chiefly undertaken to procure slaves as an exchange for the wares of Europe. It is this trade, which setting justice and humanity at defiance, crowds the unhappy Africans in the foul and pestilential holds of ships,

P  R  E  F  A  C  E.      v

where twenty-five thousand perish annually of disease and broken hearts. It is this traffic which places the survivors in the hands of masters whose natural feelings are destroyed by early and continual intercourse with the worst of slavery, where their spirits are broken and their bodies wasted by insupportable toils. Lastly, it is this trade which deprives them of those best privileges of our nature, conjugal affection and parental love, the constant supply which it affords compensating the loss of those victims of avarice and cruelty who have died without issue to inherit their misery and disgrace.—Hence it is, that the waste of life among a people naturally prolific in the extreme, amounts to an eighth part annually; and upwards of an hundred thousand Africans are yearly transported across the Atlantic, to keep up the number of those unhappy men who are doomed to toil, to slavery, and to death.

   This mournful truth, while it confutes a thousand arguments drawn by the wretched apologists

vi      P  R  E  F  A  C  E.

of slavery, from the unhappy condition of the negroes in the West-India islands, suggests other reflections, at which humanity shudders.—It is the interest of the merchants of England, that the condition of the negroes in the colonies should not be meliorated, for otherwise they might multiply in such a manner as to destroy the demand; while on the other hand the planters who can now buy a full-grown African cheaper than they can rear a child from birth to the age of labour, are thus, in the treatment of their slaves, freed from those restraints which interest imposes on the most merciless. Thus it is, that these two species of Christians find their account in the sufferings of the injured Africans; and who after this can wonder that their general treatment is cruel and severe?

   That representations such as these should have no influence in a country where men have heads to reason and hearts to feel, is impossible; and before long it is hoped they will have a powerful effect in the senate of

P  R  E  F  A  C  E.      vii

the nation. A partial attachment to the errors of their country, cannot be alleged against the politicians of the present day; nor is it easy to see how the traffic in the human species, can be overlooked by those among them who have any pretensions to patriotism or humanity—Nor how those adherents of liberty, who so lately fought the battles of America, when Britain attempted to retain her authority over the colonies she had formed, can view unmoved the real enormities she is daily perpetrating in another quarter of the globe.

   Though the author of the following poem has spoken of the slave trade with the abhorrence which it deserves, he would not be thought to involve all who are concerned in it in the charge of deliberate wickedness. The combined influence of custom, of prejudice, and of interest, has, he knows, in all ages afforded melancholy instances, not only of the corruption of the heart, but of the perversion of the understanding; and to this last circumstance he is willing to impute it, that there are English-

vi      P  R  E  F  A  C  E.

men deeply engaged in the traffic in the human species (incredible as it may appear) who are, in other respects, men of honour and integrity; and even, as he has been told, of humanity—Such instances are deeply to be deplored.

   Feeling for the honour of his country, and for the sufferings of the friendless and injured negroes, the author has attempted to attract public notice to the slave trade, by committing his thoughts to the press in the form of a poem. That which he now offers is the first part of his plan; if this meets attention, it will be continued. It may be thought that he has been warm, and he will not deny it—This however he may say, that he has not used the licence of a poet to deal in fiction—It is with heartfelt sorrow he declares, that on this subject the truth defies the exaggeration of passion, or the embellishments of imagination.


W R O N G S   OF   A F R I C A.


OFFSPRING of love divine, Humanity!
To who, his eldest born, th'Eternal gave
Dominion o'er the heart; and taught to touch
Its varied stops in sweetest unison;
And strike the string that from a kindred breast
Responsive vibrates! from the noisy haunts

[ 2 ]

Of mercantile confusion, where thy voice
Is heard not; from the meretricious glare
Of crowded theatres, where in thy place
Sits Sensibility, with wat'ry eye,
Dropping o'er fancied woes her useless tear;
Come thou, and weep with me substantial ills;
And execrate the wrongs, that Afric's sons,
Torn from their natal shore, and doom'd to bear
The yoke of servitude in western climes,
Sustain. Nor vainly let our sorrows flow,
Nor let the strong emotion rise in vain,
But may the kind contagion widely spread,
Till in its flame the unrelenting heart
Of Avarice, melt in softest sympathy;—
And one bright blaze of universal love,
In grateful incense, rises up to heaven.

   Form'd with the same capacity of pain
The same desire of pleasure and of ease,
Why feels not man for man? When nature shrinks

[ 3 ]

From the slight puncture of an insect's sting,
Faints if not screen'd from sultry suns, and pines
Beneath the hardship of an hour's delay
Of needful nutriment; when liberty
Is priz'd so dearly, that the slightest breath
That ruffles but her mantle, can awake
To arms, unwarlike nations, and can rouse
Confederate states to vindicate her claims;
How shall the sufferer man, his fellow doom
To ills he mourns, or spurns at? tear with stripes
His quivering flesh; with hunger and with thirst
Waste his emaciate frame? in ceaseless toils
Exhaust his vital powers; and bind his limbs
In galling chains? Shall he whose fragile form
Demands continual blessings, to support
Its complicated texture; air, and food,
Raiment, alternate rest, and kindly skies,
And healthful seasons, dare with impious voice
To ask those mercies, whilst his selfish aim
Arrests the general freedom of their course?

[ 4 ]

And gratified beyond his utmost wish,
Debars another from the bounteous store?

   From her exhaustless springs the fruitful earth
The wants of all supplies: her children we,
From her full veins the grateful juices draw,
With life and health replete; nor hard return
She at our hands requires, nor more than suits
The ends of health and pleasure; yet bestows
On all her offspring with a parent's love
Her gifts impartial: of the self-same frame,
Alike in passions, appetites, and powers,
We seize the boon her equal care extends,
But whilst we grasp it, turn an eye unblest
Upon a brother's birth-right; nor desist
With hands unhallow'd, till by fraud or force
We call his portion ours; nor stop we here,
But bid the plunder'd wretch again return,
And supplicate again with toil, and tears,
The general mother; and as she bestows,

[ 5 ]

Again we tear the morsel from his hands;
An useless booty! whilst the sufferer droops
Beneath reiterated wrongs, and dies.

   But thou, the master of the sable crew!
Lord of their lives and ruler of their fate,
For whom they toil and bleed! what powers unknown
Of keen enjoyment can thy nature boast,
That thus thy single bliss can grasp the sum
Of hapless numbers, sacrificed to thee?
—Say, can their tears delight thee? Can their groans
Add poignance to thy pleasures? Or when death
Alarms thee with his summons, canst thou add
The total of their ravish'd lives to thine?
Or spring not rather thy detested joys,
From some perversion of each nobler sense
Indulgent nature gave thee? For the glow
Of melting charity, that looks on all
With eyes impartial; and receives delight
Most exquisite, whene'er her ready aid

[ 6 ]

Diffuses gladness, or represses pain,
Thro' the minutest particle of life;
Feels not thine harden'd breast a horrid bliss
In the wild shriek of anguish? in the groan
Of speechless misery? Hence with tyrant voice
Thou bidst the trembling victim to thy wrath
Devoted, writhe beneath the torturing whip,
Or for some trivial fault, (to which compar'd
The daily crime, which thou without remorse
Committ'st against him, is as oceans depth,
To the shoal current of the scantiest rill)
To mutilation doom'st him, and to death.
—Dear to the heart is freedom's generous flame,
And dear th'exulting glow, that warms the soul,
When struggling virtue from the tyrant's grasp
Indignant rushes, and asserts her rights;
But for this nameless transport, thou hast found
A gloomy substitute, and from the depths
Of loathsome dungeons, manacles, and chains,
Canst draw strange pleasure, and preposterous joy.

[ 7 ]

   And thou th'inferior minister of ill!
Inferior in degree, but in thy scorn
Of every milder virtue, in the love
Of rapine, and the quenchless thirst of gold
His more than equal! O'er th'Atlantic deep,
That rolls in vain to screen its eastern shores
From thy fierce purpose, on thou plough'st thy way;
And firm, and fearless, as thy voyage were meant
On messages of mercy, seest unmov'd
The lightnings glare, and hear'st the thunders roll,
Regardless of their threats; when o'er the main,
Rides in dread state the equinoctial blast,
And swells th'insulted ocean, when thy bark
(The thin partition 'twixt thy fate and thee)
Labours thro' all her frame, and loudly threats
Thine instantaneous doom; thou still preserv'st
Thine execrable aim; nor storms, nor fire,
Nor fell diseases, nor impending death,
Arrest thy purpose; till the distant shores
Of hapless Afric open on thy sight.

[ 8 ]

   From northern Gambia, to the southern climes
Of sad ANGOLA, lie the fated lands,
Whose genius mourns thy coming: wak'd by him,
In vain the elemental fury rag'd,
For thou hast triumph'd: joyful on the strand
His sable sons receive thy wearied crew;
And bid them share their vegetable store,
Pow'rful to purify the tainted blood,
And grateful to the palate, long inur'd
To nutriment half putrid: in return,
Thou to their dazzled sight disclosest wide
Thy magazine of wonders, cull'd with care,
From all the splendid trifles, that adorn
Thine own luxrious region; mimic gems
That emulate the true; fictitious gold
To various uses fashion'd, pointing out
Wants which before they knew not; mirrors bright,
Reflecting to their quick and curious eye
Their sable features; shells, and beads, and rings,
And all fantastic folly's gingling bells,

[ 9 ]

That catch'd th'unpractis'd ear, and thence convey
Their unsuspected poison to the mind.

   Yet not delightless pass'd their cloudless days.
The cheerful natives, ere the wasteful rage
Of European avarice chang'd the scene;
—Strangers alike to luxury and toil,
They, with assiduous labour, never woo'd
A coy and stubborn soil, that gave its fruits
Reluctant; but on some devoted day,
Performed the task, that for their future lives
Suffic'd, and to the moist and vigorous earth
The youthful shoots committed: fervid suns,
And plenteous showers, the rising juices sent
Thro' all the turgid branches; and ere long,
Screen'd from the scorching beam, beneath the shade
Himself had rais'd, the careless planter sat;
And from the bending branches cropt the fruit;
More grateful to his unperverted taste,
Than all that glads the glutton's pamper'd meal.

[ 10 ]

Nor was amusement wanting; oft at morn,
Lord of his time, the healthful native rose,
And seiz'd his faithful bow, and took his way
Midst tangled woods, or over distant plains,
To pierce the murd'rous Pard; when glowing noon
Pour'd its meridian fervors, in cool shades
He slept away th'uncounted hours, till eve
Recall'd him home; then midst the village train
He join'd the mazy dance; then all his pow'rs
Were wak'd to action; vigorous and alert,
He bounded o'er the plain; or in due time
Plied his unwearied feet, and beat his hands;
Whilst bursts of laughter, and loud shouts of joy,
Spoke the keen pleasures of th'admiring throng.

   But when the active labours of the chace
No more delighted, in the shady bower
Idly industrious, sat reclin'd at ease
The sable artist; to the jav'lin's shaft,
The ebon staff, or maple goblet, gave

[ 11 ]

Fantastic decorations; simply carv'd,
Yet not inelegant: beneath his hands,
Oft too a cloth of firmer texture grew,
That steep'd in azure, mocks the brittle threads,
And fleeting tincture, of our boasted arts.
The task, perform'd beneath no master's eye,
Of trivial worth esteem'd, successive months
Unfinish'd saw, whilst objects interven'd,
Deem'd more important; that by grateful change,
Cheer'd the slow progress of his guiltless life.

   Nor yet unknown to more refin'd delights,
Nor to the soft and social feelings lost,
Was the swart African: wherever man
Erects his dwelling, whether on the bleak
And frozen cliffs of Zembla's northern coast,
Or in meridian regions; Love attends
And shares his habitation: in his train
Come fond affections, come endearing joys,
And confidence, and tenderness, and truth;

[ 12 ]

For not to polish'd life alone confin'd
Are these primæval blessings; rather there
Destroyed, or injured; mercenary ties
There bind ill suited tempers; avarice there,
And pride, and low'ring superstition, cross
The tender union; but where nature reigns,
And universal freedom, love exults
As in his native clime; there aims secure
His brightest arrow, steep'd in keen delights,
To cultur'd minds, and colder skies unknown.

   Dark, and portentous, as the sable cloud,
That bears unseen contagion on its wings,
And drops destruction on the race of man,
Came the foul plague, that, brought from Europe, spread
O'er Afric's peaceful shores, with sudden change
Perverting good, to evil: at the sight
Nature recoil'd, and tore with frantic hands
Her own immortal features: broke at once,

[ 13 ]

Were all the bonds of social life, and rage,
And deadly hatred, and uncheck'd revenge,
In every bosom burn'd. The dance, the song
Were now no more, for treachery's secret snare
Impended o'er their revels, and distrust
Had alienated man from man: no more,
At early dawn, o'er hills and plains unknown,
The hunter took his solitary range,
Lest, fiercer than the tyger or the pard,
He there shou'd meet his fellows, and become
Himself the prey. Then mutual wars arose,
And neighbouring states, that never knew before
A motive of contention, took the field;
Not with the glorious hope of conquest fir'd,
But with detested avarice, to purloin
Their foes, and sell to Europe's shameless race,
Their unoffending neighbours; soon themselves
To share their lot, and mourn the self-same chains.

   But say, whence first th'unnatural trade arose,

[ 14 ]

And what the strong inducement, that could tempt
Such dread perversion? Cou'd not Afric's wealth,
Her ivory, and her granulated gold,
To her superfluous, well repay the stores,
(Superfluous too) from distant Europe sent;
But liberty and life must be the price,
And man become the merchandize and spoil?
—O, when with slow and hesitating voice,
The wily European first propos'd
His hateful barter, that some patriot hand,
Urg'd with prophetic rage, has stopt the source
Of future ill, and deep within his breast
The deadly weapon buried!—whilst aloof
Stood his pale brethren, paler then with fear;
And shuddering at the awful deed, had learnt
To venerate th'eternal rights of man.

   Artful, and fair, and eloquent of speech,
Was the first tempter, that in Eden's groves,
Guiltless before, brought sin, and pain, and death:

[ 15 ]

And fair, and artful, were the cultur'd train,
That wound the snare round Afric's thoughtless sons,
And dragg'd them to perdition. In their eyes
Bright shine the splendid stores; around them throng
The wondering natives; and with strange delight,
Gaze on thier novel beauties; as they gaze,
New wishes rise, which, gratified in part,
And part restrain'd, and heighten'd by delay,
Wake the dread lust of having. What their climes
Of rich, or rare, for ornament, or use,
Afford, they glad resign; but still unbought
Remains the shining treasure, far beyond
All possible equivalent; for vain
Were all the proffer'd gifts, that highest stood
In the poor native's estimate; his bow,
His reedy arrows, or the dappled skin
Won from the leopard in the dangerous chace.
Mean time impetuous rose the fierce desire,
And, like a sudden deluge, swept along
The sense of right uncultur'd nature gave,

[ 16 ]

Each softer feeling, every social tie,
And mark'd th'arrival of the dreadful hour.
—The European caught the favouring time;
And with bland speech, and soften'd smile, propos'd
A prize, that might the splendid booty win,
—A brother's sacrifice.——

   Safe on the sheltering coast of wide Benin,
The stately vessel rode; and now the sun,
Deep in the western flood had quenched his fires;
And the wan moon, in heav'n's opposing scale,
Hung her pale lamp; that oe'r the breezy main,
Scatter'd its broken radiance—all was still—
When dim, beneath the sober beam of night,
Was seen the light canoe, that tow'rds the ship
In hasty course directed: in it sat
Arebo and Corymbo, brothers they,
And till this fatal moment more attach'd
By friendship than by nature; but too weak
Were nature's ties, or friendship's closer bonds,

[ 17 ]

And in the element of fierce desire,
Their brittle hold resign'd. Corymbo doom'd
His brother to captivity, and lur'd
To share the feign'd excursion, and partake
The evening revel, with the morning light
Again to seek the shore. They reach the ship—
A shout of joy salutes them; on the deck
Corymbo leaps, whilst trembling close behind
Arebo follows, scarce as yet resolv'd
To share the banquet; on the distant shore
He turned his eyes, and felt his spirits sink
In strange dejection; sudden fear impell'd
His steps, and from the vessel's tow'ring height,
He sought to plunge for safety in the flood:
—But ah! too late—superior strength restrains
His vain attempt; and insults, stripes, and chains,
Fill the sad series of his future days.

   Mean time Corymbo, struck with conscious guilt
Turn'd from the conflict; and in haste requir'd

[ 18 ]

The promis'd bounty. This be thy reward,
Cried, with malicious smile, the watchful fiend
That first devis'd the treachery, and display'd
His implements of torture, whips, and bonds.
—Deep in the centre of the floating pile,
Were thrown the hapless brothers, there to pass
The changing moons, till in the western world
New woes awaited them, whilst mutual hate
Sharpen'd each pang, and doubled every ill.

   Thus blasted were the joys of private life;
And the fair fruit of confidence, receiv'd
A canker in its core, that all unseen
To poison turn'd its salutary powers.
—But these were trivial injuries, confin'd
To private wrong; and like the fever's rage,
Sought but precarious victims for their prey:
But soon the epidemic madness swell'd
To pestilential fury, and involv'd
Surrounding nations in one general doom.

[ 19 ]

Nor only then, beneath the gloom of night,
In the lone path, the sable ruffian lurk'd
Watchful to seize and sell for useless toys,
His weaker fellow; but deluded states
Avow'd the public measure; to the field
March'd forth contending armies, unprovok'd
By previous wrong, to wage unnatural war:
Whilst he, the white deceiver, who had sown
The seeds of discord, saw with horrid joy
The harvest ripen to his utmost wish;
And reap'd the spoils of treachery, guilt, and blood.

   Deep in the shady covert of a wood,
That screen'd from noon-day rage the slight-built bowers,
And distant far from ocean's heaving tides,
Lay a small hamlet; whose inglorious sons,
Were strangers yet to war; save when provok'd
By hunger's call, the monsters of the waste
Attacked their dwellings. O'er the lone retreat

[ 20 ]

Sail'd the dim cloud of night, and thro' the trees
Sigh'd the soft gale, and hush'd to deep repose
The guiltless tenants; when a sudden fire
Involv'd their habitations; thro' the flames
They rush'd for safety; but a numerous throng
Of native ruffians, from a distant shore,
Attack'd the helpless crew, and bore away
Their trembling victims; loudly rose the voice
Of anguish, whilst the mother for her child
Struggled with frantic violence, And dar'd
Th'extreme of danger; whilst the lover clasp'd
The mistress of his choice, and rais'd his breast
To meet the threatn'd blow; whilst youth, alarm'd,
Trusted to flight for safety, and the tear
Of supplicating age was pour'd in vain:
—Fond tears, and vain attempts! shall mercy rest
In savage bosoms, when the cultur'd mind
Disclaims her influence? From their peaceful home
For ever torn, and chain'd in long array,
The mourning sufferers move along the plain,

[ 21 ]

A spectacle of woe; and frequent turn
Their tear-dimm'd eyes towards the fav'rite spot
That gave them birth, and saw their youthful sports;
Whose streams had cool'd their thirst, whose forests dark
Had screen'd their slumbers, and whose varied scenes
Had winess'd all their joys. They turn, and mourn
Their simmple threshold now with kindred blood
Defil'd; their roof's of rapid flames the prey;
The partners of their pleasure's now condemn'd
To share their lot, or pouring out their lives
Beneath untented wounds.—They turn and weep,
Whilst o'er the burning sand the frequent goad
Hastens their lingering steps, till on their sight
Open's th'extended ocean: hovering near,
Like some dread monster, watchful for its prey,
The vessel glooms portentous; soon to seize
Her living victims, and to whelm them deep
In the dark cavern of her loathsome womb.

[ 22 ]

   O might we here absolve the theme, and hide
Beneath th'impenetrable veil of night
New scenes of horror; happy so to spare
The blush, that else must tinge th'ingenuous cheek;
To spare the tear of pity, nor provoke
The sudden imprecation that will burst
From plain integrity, when open wrong
Wantons secure in guilt.—And let it burst,
And let the cheek with burning blushes glow,
And pity pour her tears: for is not Man
The author of the wrong? And shall not they,
In colour, nation, faith,—associate all—
Who see, yet not resent it; hear of it,
Yet stand regardless; know it, yet partake
The luxuries it supplies; shall these not feel
The keen emotions of remorse and shame?
And learn this truth severe, that whilst they shun
The glorious conflict, nor assist the cause
Of suffering nature, THEY PARTAKE THE GUILT?

[ 23 ]

   Come then, ye generous few, whose hearts can feel
For stranger sorrows; who can hear the voice
Of misery breathe across th'Atlantic main,
Diminish'd not by distance!—Ye too come,
Ye patrons of distress, beneath whose smile
Exulting charity beholds with joy
The numerous temples rising to her fame;
Where age in peace reposes, where the young
A safe asylum find; where sickness smiles,
And hunger meets relief! Come, and with me
Descend that floating dungeon's dark recess,
To air scarce pervious; where in numbers pil'd,
And closely wegd'd within the scanty breadth
Of calculated inches, pass their hours
The victims of our avarice.—Tell me, then,
Did ever he, the glory of our isle,
Our new ALCIDES, in whose conquering grasp
The serpents of oppression droop'd and died;
Who now essays his heavenly temper'd spear
Against the eastern Python's deadly rage:

[ 24 ]

Immortal HOWARD! when with fearless step
He trac'd pale misery to her last recess,
Midst putrid vapours and infectious damps,
Th'abodes of harden'd guilt—Did ever he
Behold a sight so dreadful? where the dead
Press on the dying; where the parting groan
Is heard without compassion, or excites
The living wretches envy; where debarr'd
From every blessing, and from every hope,
Death comes not at their bidding, but selects
With wayward choice his favorites; harshly kind,
Dissolves the bond, and mocks the tyrant's rage?

   A truce with declamation:—thus methinks
I hear some veteran trafficker in blood,
Whose leisure—by repeated crimes procur'd—
Is us'd to justify those crimes, reply:
—Peace to your declamation, nor presume
To judge another's feelings.—Is it yours,
A stranger to the scene, to tell the cares,

[ 25 ]

The anxious days, the busy, restless nights,
Devoted to the succour of the slaves
When visited by sickness? Is it yours
To tell what arts are us'd, the healing arts
Of cultivated Europe; to appease
The recent pang, or stop the spreading rage
Of fierce contagion? But suppose we grant
What you assume unjustly, that our ears
Are shut to misery's voice; our harden'd hearts
Lost to the social sympathies of man;
Ye will not sure deny, that still we feel
The potent charm of interest; and with her
Ev'n shou'd humanity refuse to join,
She here becomes her substitute, and leads
To equal blessings: 'tis not then enough
You prove us void of feeling; you must shew
Our folly far exceeds our guilt, or see
Your blunted darts, from truth's bright shield, recoil.

   And who shall rob you of your just applause!

[ 26 ]

Ye watchful guardians of the subject crew,
That curse the lives ye cherish? 'Tis, we own,
No common case, to shut the gates of death
On those who wish to pass them; to retain
Within its suffering bound, th'indignant soul
That pants for freedom, as the hunted hart
That seeks the coolness of the chrystal spring:
And when the tyrant of the harmless flock,
That whilst he feeds them, destines them to death,
Is call'd humane, ye then may justly boast
The glorious appellation: 'Tis enough
Mean time for you, if life and health remain
Amongst your captives, till they reach the shores
Of those polluted Islands, that too soon
Shall realize the evils which they dread.
—Then ends your sympathy—and whether there
Long years of suffering waste by slow degrees
Their vital powers, or violence deform
Their mutilated limbs, or hunger gnaws,
Or sickness preys upon them, unconcern'd

[ 27 ]

Ye give them to their fate; as Jacob's sons
Sold their more righteous brother; nor inquire
What ills to suffer, or what deaths to die.

   Most fitly then ye throw aside the veil,
That not conceals, but more deforms your crimes,
Tinging their features with the loathsome hue
Of foul hypocrisy: and right ye deem,
When scorning pity's softer ties, ye own
That avarice only prompts the deed humane,
Which seems to claim a fairer origin.
—But why with foolish fondness wou'd you strive
To dress a devil in an angel's garb,
And bid mankind adore him?—Can it be,
That he, the foulest fiend that ever stalk'd
Across the confines of this suffering world;
He, the dread spirit of commercial gain,
Whose heart is marble, and whose harpy hands
Are stain'd with blood of millions; can it be,
That he shou'd personate the form divine

[ 28 ]

Of soft compassion, and perform the task
To her mild cares and lenient hand assign'd?
—It is not his, on misery's bleeding wounds
To pour the soothing balm; to raise the head
That droops in sickness; timely to supply
The healing potion; and the bitter cup
Sweeten with words of sympathy. To him,
Of all that breathes, indifferent is the fate;
And whilst one hand the cordial drop sustains,
The other grasps a dagger; thus prepar'd,
With life, and death, he balances the scale,
And as the beam preponderates, saves, or kills.

   But say, ye shameless sophists! who compress'd
Within the confines of that iron grate,
Its struggling tenants, who for air and food
Incessant clamour? 'Twas not she whose name
Ye now profan'd; beneath whose kindling smile
All animated nature leaps with joy;
She, from whose streaming eyes, your murd'rous deeds

[ 29 ]

Draw tears of blood—No, 'twas the hated power
Of unrelenting avarice, that with her
Late claim'd unnatural union; and assur'd
Himself her substitute; Insatiate he,
Whilst thirst of gain absorb'd each other sense,
Pour'd in his cavern deep, throng after throng,
His living victims; with his iron mace,
Crush'd and condens'd their ranks, and o'er them clos'd
Th'impenetrable barrier.—Grimly then,
Like him of yore, that in his blood-stain'd cave
Confin'd the wandering Greeks, he sat and smil'd,
And brooded over his treasures, now esteem'd
Irrevocably his.—Deluded fool!
The cup, thy giddy rage has fill'd too high,
Like that of Tantalus shall soon o'erflow,
And leave thee wondering at the sudden void.
For nature, Proteus like, when long confin'd
Delights to change her form: fermenting slow,
Her silent work commences; scarce perceiv'd

[ 30 ]

Its hidden progress, till the leaven reach
The principle of being, to new forms
And combinations tending: then uncheck'd
Rages the wild contagion.—Vainly then,
The tyrant opens wide his iron gate,
And bids the fainting wretch once more imbibe
The fragrant gales of day; or o'er him pours
In copious streams th'invigorating lymph:
—Ah see, his palsied lips refuse to taste
The kind astringent; sudden tremors shake
His limbs; his glaring eye-balls roll in death;
And unreluctant, from its wearied frame,
Flies the freed spirit:—Yet not seeks alone
The promis'd regions of eternal spring;
But mingling with the kindred souls, whose bonds
Each passing hour dissevers, hovers o'er
The scene, and bids its lov'd companions haste,
And share the sweets of freedom: or delights
To glance before the tyrant's fear-struck sight;
Mock at his anguish, feast upon the fears

[ 31 ]

That agitate his bosom, whilst he sees
The spirit of disease his folly rais'd,
Roam unconfin'd; and in one common fate,
Involve at once th'oppressor, and the slave.

    Nations of Europe! o'er whose favour'd lands
Philosophy hath rais'd her light divine,
(A brighter sun than that which rules the day)
Beneath whose piercing beam, the spectre forms
Of slavish superstition slow retire!
Who greatly struggling with degrading chains,
Have freed your limbs from bondage! felt the charms
Of property! beyond a tyrant's lust
Have placed domestic bliss! and soon shall own
That noblest freedom, freedom of the mind,
Secure from priestly craft and papal claims!
 But chiefly thou, the mistress of the main,
Who sits serene amidst thy subject waves,
That bring thee hourly tibute; Queen of Isles,
Of faith unblemished, of unconquer'd soul,

[ 32 ]

And prizing freedom dearer than the blood
That circles round thine heart! O Albion, say,
And say, ye sister kingdoms; why remains
This universal blot, that marks your brows
With black ingratitude; and tells high heaven
You merit not your blessings? Why remains
This foul and open wound on nature's limb,
Wasting its healthful powers? (and who shall tell
How far it may spread th'infection?) Blush ye not
To boast your equal laws, your just restraints,
Your rights defin'd, your liberties secur'd,
Whilst with an iron hand ye crush to earth
The helpless African; and bid him drink
That cup of sorrow, which yourselves have dash'd
Indignant, from opression's fainting grasp?
—O Britain! jealous of thy private rights,
Like some fond mother, with a partial eye
Thou seest thine offspring; and should fraud, or force,
Attempt to tear them from thee; soon would rise
Thy kindling spirit, and th'insidious foe

[ 33 ]

Wou'd feel thy ready vengeance: And shalt thou
Incroach upon another? Shall thine hand
Be stain'd with murder? Or with paltry theft
Polluted? Or abandon'd to thy shame,
Canst thou receive the produce of the crimes
Thy sons commit, and from thy tow'ring state
Affect to know not of them? High in rank
Amidst surrounding nations; high in fame;
In public spirit high; and high in wealth;
Forget not, Britain, higher still than thee
Sits the great Judge of Nations, who can weigh
The wrong and can repay. Before his throne
Confess thy weakness; nor with impious voice
Arraign th'immutable decree, that fix'd
The bounds of wrong and right; that gave to all
Their equal blessings, and secures its ends
By penalties severe; which often flow,
But always certain, on the guilty head,
Pour down the terrors of the wrath divine.


A Note on the Text

The Wrongs of Africa, A Poem. Part the First (London: R. Faulder, 1787)

This e-text is located at www.brycchancarey.com/slavery/roscoe1.htm

Authorship: The poem, commissioned by the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade, was written by William Roscoe. The Preface was written by James Currie.
Copy Text: The copy text used is held in The British Library, shelfmark: 11630.c.9 [1]

This is the full text of 'part the first' of the poem. The poem is in two parts, which appeared seperately. Click Here for Part Two of the poem.



poetry logo Twitter link image Mail link image Home link image