on the
Bill Lately Passed
for Regulating the
Slave Trade.

Helen Maria Williams.

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d; It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heav’n Upon the place beneath. It is twice bless’d; It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” Shakespeare.

Printed for T. Cadell, in the Strand.

A4v B1r 1

The hollow winds of Night, no more

In wild, unequal cadence pour

On musing Fancy’s wakeful ear,

The groan of agony severe

From yon dark vessel, which contains


The wretch new bound in hopeless chains;

Whose soul with keener anguish bleeds,

As Afric’s less’ning shore recedes—

No more where Ocean’s unseen bound

Leaves a drear world of waters round,


Between the howling gust, shall rise

The stifled Captive’s latest sighs—;

B No B1v 2

No more shall suffocating death

Seize the pent victim’s sinking breath;

The pang of that convulsive hour


Reproaching Man’s insatiate power;

Man! who to Afric’s shore has past

Relentless, as the annual blast

That sweeps the Western Isles, and flings

Destruction from its furious wings—


And Woman, she, too weak to bear

The galling chain, the tainted air;

Of mind too feeble to sustain

The vast, accumulated pain;

No more, in desperation wild,


Shall madly strain her gasping child;

With all the mother at her soul,

With eyes where tears have ceas’d to roll,

Shall B2r 3

Shall catch the livid infant’s breath;

Then sink in agonizing death.


Britain! the noble, blest decree

That sooths despair, is fram’d by Thee!

Thy powerful arm has interpos’d

And one dire scene for ever clos’d;

Its horror shall no more belong


To that foul drama, deep with wrong.

Oh, first of Europe’s polish’d lands,

To ease the Captive’s iron bands!

Long as thy glorious annals shine,

This proud distinction shall be thine:


Not first alone when Valour leads,

To rush on Danger’s noblest deeds;

When Mercy calls thee to explore

A gloomy path, untrod before,

B2 Thy B2v 4

Thy ardent spirit springs to heal,


And, greatly gen’rous, dares to feel!—

Valour is like the meteor’s light,

Whose partial flash leaves deeper night;

While Mercy, like the lunar ray,

Gilds the thick shade with softer day.


For this, in Fame’s immortal shrine,

A double wreathe, O Pitt, is thine!

For this! while distant ages hear

With Admiration’s sacred tear,

Of powers, whose energy sublime


Disdain’d to borrow force from Time,

With no gradations mark’d their flight,

But rose, at once, to Glory’s height;

The deeds of Mercy, that embrace

A distant sphere, an alien-race

60 Shall B3r 5

Shall Virtue’s lips record, and claim

The fairest honours of thy name!

’Tis ever Nature’s gen’rous view;

Great minds, should noble ends pursue;

As the clear sun-beam, when most bright,


Warms, in proportion to its light.—

And Richmond, he! who, high in birth

Adds the unfading rays of worth;

Who stoops, from scenes in radiance drest,

To ease the mourner’s aching breast;


The tale of private woe to hear,

And wipe the friendless orphan’s tear!—

His bosom for the Captive bleeds,

He, Guardian of the injur’d! pleads

With all the force that Genius gives,


And warmth that but with Virtue lives;

For B3v 6

For Virtue, with divine controul,

Collects the various powers of soul;

And lends, from her unsullied source,

The gems of thought their purest force.


Oh blest decree! whose lustre seems

Like the sweet Morn’s reviving beams,

That chase the hideous forms of night,

And promise day more richly bright;

Great deed! that met consenting minds


In all, but those whom Av’rice binds;

Who creep in Interest’s crooked ways,

Nor ever pass her narrow maze;

Or those, whom hard Indiff’rence steels

To every pang another feels.


For Them has Fortune, round their bowers,

Twin’d (partial nymph!) her lavish flowers;

For B4r 7

For Them, from unsunn’d caves, she brings

Her summer ice; for Them, she springs

To climes, where hotter suns produce


The richer fruits delicious juice:

While They, whom wasted blessings tire,

Nor leave one want, to feed desire;

With cool, insulting ease, demand

“Why” for yon hopeless, Captive Band,


Is ask’d, to mitigate despair,

The mercy of the common air?

The boon of larger space to breathe,

While coop’d that hollow deck beneath?

A lengthen’d plank, on which to throw


Their shackled limbs, while fiercely glow

The beams direct, that on each head

The fury of contagion shed?—

And B4v 8

And dare presumptuous, guilty man,

Load with offence his fleeting span?


Deform Creation with the gloom

Of crimes, that blot its cheerful bloom;

Darken a work so perfect made,

And cast the Universe in shade!—

Alas, to Afric’s fetter’d race


Creation wears no form of grace!

To Them, Earth’s pleasant vales are found

A blasted waste, a sterile bound;

Where the poor wand’rer must sustain

The load of unremitted pain!


A region, in whose ample scope

His eye discerns no gleam of hope;

Where Thought no kind asylum knows,

On which its anguish may repose,

But C1r 9

But Death, that to the ravag’d breast


Comes not in shapes of terror drest,

Points to green hills where Freedom roves,

And minds renew their former loves;

Or, low’ring in the troubled air,

Hangs the fierce spectre of Despair,


Whose soul abhors the gift of life,

Who stedfast grasps the reeking knife,

Bids the charg’d heart in torrents bleed,

And smiles in frenzy, at the deed.

So, when rude winds the sailor urge


On polar seas, near Earth’s last verge;

Long with the blast he struggles hard,

To save his bark, in ice imbarr’d;

But finds at length, o’ercome with pain,

The conflict with his fate is vain;

140 C Then C1v 10

Then heaves no more the useless groan,

But hardens like the wave to stone.

Ye noble minds! who o’er a sky

Where clouds are roll’d, and tempests fly,

Have bid the lambent lustre play


Of one pure, lovely, azure ray;

Oh, far diffuse its op’ning bloom,

And the wide hemisphere illume!

Ye, who one bitter drop have drain’d

From Slav’ry’s cup, with horror stain’d;


Oh, let no fatal dregs be found,

But dash her chalice on the ground:

Oh, while she links her impious chain,

And calculates the price of pain;

Weighs Agony in sordid scales,


And marks if Death, or Life prevails;

In C2r 11

In one short moment, seals the doom

Of years, which anguish shall consume;

Decides how near the mangling scourge

May to the grave its victim urge,


Yet for awhile, with prudent care

The half-worn wretch, if useful, spare;

And speculates with skill refin’d,

How deep a wound will stab the mind;

How far the spirit can endure


Calamity, that hopes no cure;—

Ye! who can selfish cares forego,

To pity those which others know;

As Light, that from its centre strays,

To glad all Nature with its rays;


Oh! ease the pangs ye stoop to share,

And rescue millions from despair!—

C2 For C2v 12

For you, while Morn in graces gay,

Wakes the fresh bloom of op’ning Day;

Gilds with her purple light your dome,


Renewing all the joys of home;

Of home! dear scene, whose ties can bind

With sacred force the human mind;

That feels each little absence pain,

And lives but to return again;


To that lov’d spot, however far,

Points, like the needle to its star;

That native shed which first we knew,

Where first the sweet affections grew;

Alike the winning heart can draw,


If fram’d of marble, or of straw;

Whether the voice of pleasure calls,

And gladness echoes thro’ its walls;

Or, C3r 13

Or, to its hallow’d roof we fly,

With those we love to pour the sigh;


The load of mingled pain to bear,

And soften every pang we share!—

Ah, think how desolate His state,

How He the chearful light must hate,

Whom, sever’d from his native soil,


The Morning wakes to fruitless toil;

To labours, hope shall never chear,

Or fond domestic joy endear;

Poor wretch! on whose despairing eyes

His cherish’d home shall never rise!


Condemn’d, severe extreme, to live

When all is fled that life can give!—

And ah! the blessings valued most

By human minds, are blessings lost!

Unlike C3v 14

Unlike the objects of the eye,


Enlarging, as we bring them nigh,

Our joys, at distance strike the breast,

And seem diminish’d when possest.

Who, from his far-divided shore,

The half-expiring Captive bore?


Those, whom the traffic of their race

Has robb’d of every human grace;

Whose harden’d souls no more retain

Impressions Nature stamp’d in vain;

All that distinguishes their kind,


For ever blotted from their mind;

As streams, that once the landscape gave

Reflected on the trembling wave,

Their substance change, when lock’d in frost,

And rest, in dead contraction lost;—

220 Who C4r 15

Who view unmov’d, the look, that tells

The pang that in the bosom dwells;

Heed not the nerves that terror shakes,

The heart convulsive anguish breaks;

The shriek that would their crimes upbraid,


But deem despair a part of trade.—

Such only, for detested gain,

The barb’rous commerce would maintain.

The gen’rous sailor, he, who dares

All forms of danger, while he bears


The British Flag o’er untrack’d seas,

And spreads it on the polar breeze;

He, who in Glory’s high career,

Finds agony, and death are dear;

To whose protecting arm we owe


Each blessing that the happy know;

Whatever C4v 16

Whatever charms the soften’d heart,

Each cultur’d grace, each finer art,

E’en thine, most lovely of the train!

Sweet Poetry! thy heav’n-taught strain—


His breast, where nobler passions burn,

In honest poverty, would spurn

The wealth, Oppression can bestow,

And scorn to wound a fetter’d foe.

True courage in the unconquer’d soul


Yields to Compassion’s mild controul;

As, the resisting frame of steel

The magnet’s secret force can feel.

When borne at length to Western Lands,

Chain’d on the beach the Captive stands,


Where Man, dire merchandize! is sold,

And barter’d life is paid for gold;

In D1r 17

In mute affliction, see him try

To read his new possessor’s eye;

If one blest glance of mercy there,


One half-form’d tear may check despair!—

Ah, if that eye with sorrow sees

His languid look, his quiv’ring knees,

Those limbs, which scarce their load sustain,

That form, consum’d in wasting pain;


Such sorrow melts his ruthless eye

Who sees the lamb, he doom’d to die,

In pining sickness yield his life,

And thus elude the sharpen’d knife.—

Or, if where savage habit steels


The vulgar mind, one bosom feels

The sacred claim of helpless woe—

If Pity in that soil can grow;

D Pity! D1v 18

Pity! whose tender impulse darts

With keenest force on nobler hearts;


As flames that purest essence boast,

Rise highest when they tremble most.—

Yet why on one poor chance must rest

The int’rests of a kindred breast?

Humanity’s devoted cause


Recline on Humour’s wayward laws?

To Passion’s rules must Justice bend,

And life upon Caprice depend?—

Ah ye, who one fix’d purpose own,

Whose untir’d aim is Self alone;


Who think in gold the essence lies

From which extracted bliss shall rise;

To whose dull sense, no charm appears

In social smiles, or social tears;

As D2r 19

As mists that o’er the landscape sail,


Its beauteous variations veil;

Or, if in some relenting hour,

When Nature re-assumes her power,

Your alms to Penury ye lend,

Or serve, for once, a suff’ring friend;


Whom no weak impulse e’er betray’d

To give that friend incautious aid;

Who with exact precision, pause

At that nice point which Int’rest draws;

Your watchful footsteps never found


To stray beyond that guarded bound;—

Does fleeting Life proportion bear

To all the wealth ye heap with care?

When soon your days in measur’d flight

Shall sink in Death’s terrific night;

300 D2 Then D2v 20

Then seize the moments in your power,

To Mercy consecrate the hour!

Risque something in her cause at last,

And thus atone for all the past;

Break the hard fetters of the Slave;


And learn the luxury to save!—

Does Avarice, your god, delight

With agony to feast his sight?

Does he require that victim’s slain,

And human blood, his altars stain?


Ah, not alone of power possest

To check each virtue of the breast;

As when the numbing frosts arise,

The charm of vegetation dies;

His sway the harden’d bosom leads


To Cruelty’s remorseless deeds;

Like D3r 21

Like the blue lightning when it springs

With fury on its livid wings,

Darts to its goal with baleful force,

Nor heeds that ruin marks its course.—


Oh Eloquence, prevailing art!

Whose force can chain the list’ning heart;

The throb of Sympathy inspire,

And kindle every great desire;

With magic energy controul


And reign the sov’reign of the soul!

That dreams while all its passions swell,

It shares the power it feels so well;

As visual objects seem possest

Of those clear hues by light imprest;


Oh, skill’d in every grace to charm,

To soften, to appal, to warm;

Fill D3v 22

Fill with thy noblest rage the breast,

Bid on those lips thy spirit rest,

That shall, in Britain’s Senate, trace


The wrongs of Afric’s Captive Race!—

But Fancy o’er the tale of woe

In vain one heighten’d tint would throw;

For ah, the Truth, is all we guess

Of anguish in its last excess:


Fancy may dress in deeper shade

The storm that hangs along the glade,

Spreads o’er the ruffled stream its wing,

And chills awhile the flowers of Spring:

But, where the wintry tempests sweep


In madness, o’er the darken’d deep;

Where the wild surge, the raging wave,

Point to the hopeless wretch a grave;

And D4r 23

And Death surrounds the threat’ning shore—

Can Fancy add one horror more?


Lov’d Britain! whose protecting hand

Stretch’d o’er the Globe, on Afric’s strand

The honour’d base of Freedom lays,

Soon, soon the finish’d fabric raise!

And when surrounding realms would frame,


Touch’d with a spark of gen’rous flame,

Some pure, ennobling, great design,

Some lofty act, almost divine;

Which Earth may hail with rapture high,

And Heav’n may view with fav’ring eye;


Teach them to make all Nature free,

And shine by emulating Thee!—

The End.