Tag Archives: Abolition

Phillis Wheatley, “On Imagination”


 “On Imagination”


Thy various works, imperial queen, we see,
How bright their forms! how deck’d with pomp by thee!
Thy wond’rous acts in beauteous order stand,
And all attest how potent is thine hand.

From Helicon’s refulgent heights attend,                                                     5
Ye sacred choir, and my attempts befriend:
To tell her glories with a faithful tongue,
Ye blooming graces, triumph in my song.

Now here, now there, the roving Fancy flies,
Till some lov’d object strikes her wand’ring eyes,                                          10
Whose silken fetters all the senses bind,
And soft captivity involves the mind.

Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,                                                 15
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.                                          20
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.

Though Winter frowns to Fancy’s raptur’d eyes
The fields may flourish, and gay scenes arise;
The frozen deeps may break their iron bands,                                               25
And bid their waters murmur o’er the sands.
Fair Flora may resume her fragrant reign,
And with her flow’ry riches deck the plain.
Sylvanus may diffuse his honours round,
And all the forest may with leaves be crown’d:                                              30
Show’rs may descend, and dews their gems disclose,
And nectar sparkle on the blooming rose.

Such is thy pow’r, nor are thine orders vain,
O thou the leader of the mental train:
In full perfection all thy works are wrought,                                                   35
And thine the sceptre o’er the realms of thought.
Before thy throne the subject-passions bow,
Of subject-passions sov’reign ruler thou;
At thy command joy rushes on the heart,
And through the glowing veins the spirits dart.                                             40

Fancy might now her silken pinions try
To rise from earth, and sweep th’ expanse on high:
From Tithon’s bed now might Aurora rise,
Her cheeks all glowing with celestial dies,
While a pure stream of light o’erflows the skies.                                           45
The monarch of the day I might behold,
And all the mountains tipt with radiant gold,
But I reluctant leave the pleasing views,
Which Fancy dresses to delight the Muse;
Winter austere forbids me to aspire,                                                                50
And northern tempests damp the rising fire;
They chill the tides of Fancy’s flowing sea,
Cease then, my song, cease the unequal lay.


5 Helicon “Name of a mountain in Boeotia, sacred to the Muses, in which rose the fountains of Aganippe and Hippocrene; by 16th and 17th century writers often confused with these. Hence used allusively in reference to poetic inspiration” (OED).

9 Fancy Poetic imagination.

11 fetters Anything that confines, impedes, or restrains (OED).

17 pinions  “The wings of a bird in flight” (OED).

27 Flora Roman goddess of the flowering of plants (Britannica).

29 Sylvanus Roman god the countryside (Britannica).

36 sceptreOrnamented rod or staff borne by rulers on ceremonial occasions as an emblem of authority and sovereignty” (Britannica).

43 Tithon “In Greek Legend, king of Troy, lover of Aurora. According to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, when Aurora asked Zeus to grant Tithonus eternal life, the god consented. But Aurora forgot to ask also for eternal youth, so her husband grew old and withered” (Britannica); Aurora “Roman goddess of the dawn, otherwise known as Eos, represented as rising with rosy fingers from the saffron-coloured bed of Tithonus” (OED).

SOURCE: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (Albany, NY, 1793), pp. 48-50. [Google Books]

Edited by Morgan Stanley

Phillis Wheatley, “To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth”


“To the Right Honourable WILLIAM, Earl of DARTMOUTH, His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for North-America, &c.”


Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,                                                              5
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom’s charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:                                                           10
Soon as appear’d the Goddess long desir’d,
Sick at the view, she languish’d and expir’d;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.

No more, America, in mournful strain                                                                    15
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress’d complain,
No longer shall thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t’ enslave the land.

Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,                                                 20
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:                                                                25
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray                                                                 30
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?

For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favours to renew,
Since in thy pow’r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did’st once deplore.                                                     35
May heav’nly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot’s name,
But to conduct to heav’ns refulgent fane,                                                                         40
May fiery coursers sweep th’ ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.


 Title  Right Honourable WILLIAM, Earl of DARTMOUTH William Legge, 2nd earl of Dartmouth (1731-1801), played a significant role in the events leading to the American Revolution by opposing the Stamp Act (which imposed direct taxation on the colonies). As Secretary of State for North America (1772-1775) he initially took a conciliatory approach, but following the Boston Tea Party in December 1773 he attempted to regain control of the colonies, eventually calling for overwhelming use of force to quell the rebellion. However, he was against calling for an all-out war and resigned in 1775 (Britannica).

2 Freedom  Allusion to the goddess “Libertas, in Roman religion, female personification of liberty and personal freedom” (Britannica); New-England In this period New England comprised four colonies: Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, Providence, and Connecticut (World History Encyclopedia).

15 America  Colonial America or the thirteen colonies of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia (Britannica).

18 Tyranny  “Oppressive or unjustly severe government” (OED).

25 Afric  Archaic or obsolete name for Africa (OED). Wheatley was born in West Africa and at the age of seven was kidnapped and transported to Boston aboard the slave ship The Phillis (Jeffers, Age of Phillis, p. 41).

38 Fame  Frequently figured as a winged goddess, “Fama, Greek Pheme, in Greco-Roman mythology, the personification of popular rumour” (Britannica).

40 refulgent  “Bright; shining; glittering; splendid” (Johnson); fane “A temple; a place consecrated to religion” (Johnson).

41 coursers  “A swift horse; a war horse: a word not used in prose” (Johnson).

43 the prophet  Lines 41-43 allude to the prophet Elijah who in 2 Kings “went up by a whirlwind into  heaven” by “chariot of fire and horses of fire” (2 Kings 2:11).

 Source: Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, (London, 1773), pp. 73-75. [Hathi Trust]

 Edited by Kristine Van Dusen



Thomas George Ingall, “The Negroe’s Complaint”


The Negroe’s Complaint”

The sun had long sunk in the west,
The moon in her splendor shone bright,
The crew had retired to rest,
In their hammocks to pass the long night;

When Oran, but late made a slave,                                                     5
Contriv’d to escape from the hold,
And as he hung o’er the wild wave
He thus did his sorrows unfold.

“With anguish my heart does now bleed,
Thus depriv’d of my liberty sweet,                                              10
To slavery now I’m decreed,
Yet death with more pleasure I’ll meet.

The white man who, thirsting for gold,
Hopes to barter my freedom for gain,
My loss with regret shall be told,                                                         15
And seek me, but seek me in vain.

By the light of the moon still I view
That shore where with freedom I rov’d;
Ye hills and ye vallies adieu!
It was there I met Orra, and lov’d.                                                20

Sweet maid to be from thee thus torn;
My grief is more than I can bear,
My fate is too hard to be born;
I give myself up to despair.

T’was for thee that the leopard I forc’d                                                  25
To rise from the couch where he lay;
T’was for thee that the tiger I cours’d,
That thou with their spoils might’st be gay.

As I follow’d the pard o’er the field,
The men who in ambush where laid,                                             30
Rush’d forth and compell’d me to yield
And in chains to their vessel convey’d.

But sooner than suffer their chain
To death I will chearfully fly,
And free me from sorrow and pain:                                                      35
For Orra alone now I sigh.

To P’Shaphon my god I return,
That spirit which to me he gave;
For freedom and death now I burn:”
So saying, he plung’d in the wave.                                                   40


5 Oran This name likely alludes to a city in present day Algeria, located in North Africa (Encyclopedia Britannica).

20 Orra This name possibly alludes to a female “Indian” (i.e. black, non-slave) character in Charles Dibdin’s comic opera The Islanders (1780). Her lover Yanko, also an “Indian,” is forcibly separated from her.  It may also be a play on the word “orra” which refers to “a person, esp. a servant or laborer” (OED).

23 born “To suffer (pain, hardship, or adversity) without being overcome or overwhelmed” (OED).

26 couch “The lair or den of a wild beast” (OED).

27 cours’d A variant spelling of “coursed” which means “to chase, pursue, run after” (OED).

29 pard “A panther, a leopard” (OED).

37 P’Shaphon “An Indian idol” [Author’s Note].

SOURCE: The Lady’s Magazine, vol. 23 (February, 1792), p. 101.  [Google Books]

Edited by Teresa Diviacchi

George Saville Carey, “The Negro’s Soliloquy”


 “The Negro’s Soliloquy”

By yon bright streamers in the sky,
Which glimmer on the sea;
The chearing sun approaches nigh,
Yet brings no hope to me,
The peaceful night yields me no rest,                         5
Which gives to others sleep,
My heart it bleeds within my breast,
My eyes do nought but weep.

The toils, I cou’d endure of day,
Or spurn the tyrant’s chain,                                 10
But Norah’s driven far away,
Which racks my tortur’d brain;
My wife is she,—ah cruel heart,
That cou’d her heart oppress,
But ’tis alone the tyrant’s part,                                     15
To triumph o’er distress.

Haste, blessed tidings! haste along,
From fair Britannia’s isle,
Ah, come and ease the anxious throng,
And make the slave to smile;                                 20
If then good hap, my Norah lives,
These limbs shall ne’er have rest,
Until we meet, oh, then I’ll cleave,
Forever to her breast.


1 streamers “Ray[s] proceeding from the sun” (OED).

21 hap Luck.

Source: One Thousand Eight Hundred; or, I Wish You a Happy New Year. Being a choice collection of favourite songs, on serious, moral, and lively subjects (Tewkesbury, 1800), pp. 31-2. [ECCO]

Edited by Bill Christmas

[Mrs. Letches], “A Tribute”


 “A Tribute”

What tho’ in quick succession Stars appear,
The glorious Sun is ever bright and clear!
Those lesser Orbs can ne’er his radiance shade,
For with immortal splendor he’s array’d:
No more can humble merit throw a veil                                                                                  5
On real worth—its lustre will prevail!

 With tender sympathy my bosom glows!
To ease your wrongs, and to relieve your woes!
With Eagle-sight my Soul would scape her bounds,
To pour the balm of comfort o’er your wounds.                                                                   10

Angelic Liberty! thou source divine!
Shall mortals dare to manacle thy power?
Shall the best gift which Heav’n did deign assign
To guilty man when drave from Eden’s bow’r!
Be trampled on by violaters base?                                                                                            15
And Scourge, and Chains, and Food to horses due,
Be long prepar’d for that unhappy race,
Afric’s sad sons! while they their direful task pursue!

Forbid it justice, honesty, and love,
Conspire ye heaven-born souls! and crush the throne                                                 20
Of avarice vile — so shall the blest above
Resound your triumph to the Almighty One:
Who sweetly will approve the glorious deed
Which so congenial to his Orders are;
For smiling mercy came, mild Heaven’s meed,                                                                       25
When justice stern did call for doom severe.


 Author Mrs. Letches This attribution is based on an inscription on the title page in what appears to be a contemporary hand (see ESTC T42632). She published anonymously as “A Lady” in one of the centers of the Atlantic “triangle” trade and her personal history remains unknown. Throughout the eighteenth century, Bristol’s booming port not only transported goods but also enslaved African people to the Americas and West Indies. At this same time, Bristol was known to have a large abolitionist movement that Mrs. Letches clearly contributed to. She dedicated her volume to “the Inhabitants of Bristol” (iii).

13 deign “To think it worthy of oneself (to do something); to think fit, vouchsafe, condescend” (OED).

14 drave That is “driven”; bow’r “Sanctuary.”

16 Scourge “To beat with a scourge; to whip severely, flog” (OED).

18 Afric’s sad sons “A native or inhabitant of Africa, esp. a black African” (OED).

 22 Resound To sing the praises of; Almighty One God.

25 meed “Something given in return for labour or service; recompense” (OED).

SOURCE: Poems on Several Occasions (Bristol, 1792), pp. 18-19. [Google Books]

 Edited by Sherry Portillo

[Mrs. Letches], “Evening Reflections on Brandon-Hill”


 “Evening Reflections on Brandon-Hill”

Soft pleasing Twilight! welcome is thy glad
Approach to weary man! he, forgetful still
Of all the toils succeeding days present him,
Salutes thee as the grey-clad harbinger
Of solemn sable night. Brutes do thee homage—                                           5
With silent cheerfulness attend thy mild
Inviting. Ev’n the lovely feather’d race,
Whose grateful melody makes groves and vales
Echo, yet cease their warbling, unoppress’d
With Care, repose their feeble frames, unconscious                                       10
Of ill, or snares by artful fowlers spread
To allure their innocence, or rash intent
Of inquisitive boys, invaders rude
Of liberty! on dew-besprinkled bough; —
Press fond the senseless clod with filial love:                                                  15
Than these; what transport must the bosoms swell
Of Afric’s sons, forlorn mal-treated tribe,
When Heav’n’s Majestic emblem they behold
Withdraw his radiance thence, to illuminate
Other worlds! When even their base oppressors                                            20
Content, permit them to recline their tortur’d
Frames on beds, inferior far to those
Prepar’d for pamper’d steeds. So absolute,
O Night! hast thou dominion o’er the
Petty tyrant? Mak’st him forget the                                                                     25
Oblivious draught infused! Men they
Doom—infringing justice and humanity—to
Feel the powerful scourge, and groan beneath
Unnatural tyranny, which God abhors.—
O merciful Disposer of events!                                                                           30
Inspire the breasts of the “Noble few,” foes
To cruelty and avarice, to crush their
Dreadful power! that distant nations may
Learn of Britain’s Senate, Justice and Mercy.


Author Mrs. Letches This attribution is based on an inscription on the title page in what appears to be a contemporary hand (see ESTC T42632). She published anonymously as “A Lady” in Bristol, one of the centers of the Atlantic “triangle” trade, and her personal history remains unknown. Throughout the eighteenth century, Bristol’s booming port not only transported goods but also enslaved African people to the Americas and West Indies. At this same time, Bristol boasted a large abolitionist movement that Mrs. Letches clearly contributed to. She dedicated her volume to “the Inhabitants of Bristol” (iii).

Title Brandon-Hill St. Brandon’s Hill is located close to Bristol city center in southwest England. It is possibly the oldest municipal open space in the country.

4 harbinger “One that goes before and announces the approach of some one; a forerunner” (OED).

5 sable Black.

9 warbling “Singing or making tuneful melody with sweet quavering notes” (OED).

15 filial “Of or pertaining to a son or daughter” (OED).

18 Heav’n’s Majestic emblem The sun.

 31 Noble few Abolitionists.

 34 Britain’s Senate Parliament.


SOURCE: Poems on Several Occasions (Bristol, 1792), pp. 7-8. [Google Books]

 Edited by Sherry Portillo