A4r

A
Poem
on the
Bill Lately Passed
for Regulating the
Slave Trade.

by
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.

London:
Printed for T. Cadell, in the Strand.
1788MDCCLXXXVIII.

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

5

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,

10

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

15

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—

20

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,

25

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.

30

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

35

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:

40

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,

45

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.

50

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

55

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,

65

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;

70

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,

75

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.

80

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

85

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.

90

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

95

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,

100

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

105

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?

110

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

115

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!

120

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

125

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,

130

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

135

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

145

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;

150

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,

155

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,

160

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

165

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;

170

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,

175

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;

180

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,

185

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;

190

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,

195

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!

200

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,

205

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?

210

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,

215

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,

225

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

230

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

235

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—

240

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

245

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,

250

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,

255

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;

260

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

265

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;

270

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

275

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;

280

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,

285

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;

290

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

295

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;

305

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?

310

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

315

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.—

320

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

325

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;

330

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

335

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:

340

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

345

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?

350

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,

355

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;

360

Teach them to make all Nature free,

And ſhine by emulating Thee!—

The End.