1800
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Negro Girl.

Lyrical Tales, by Mrs. Mary Robinson.

Mary Robinson


21 irregular Spenserians (ababcC): the horrors of slavery are graphically described. On this subject, compare Dugald Moore's narrative poem in Spenserians, The African (1829). The poem is an amplification of The Storm, which had appeared in the Morning Post, 5 February 1796. Not seen.

Christopher Lake Moody: "Of the twenty-two tales which compose this volume, those intitled All Alone — The Lascar — The Widow's Home — The Shepherd's Dog — The Fugitive — The Hermit of Mont Blanc — The Negro Girl — The Deserted Cottage — Poor Maguerite — Edmund's Wedding — The Alien Boy — and Golfre, — are calculated to touch the soul with pity, and to fill the eye with tears. Some of them are composed in blank verse; a kind of measure not strictly 'lyrical,' which is an epithet usually applied to a poemm adapted to music. In general, however, Mrs. R. has attended to this circumstance; and it must be allowed that the work is no contemptible monument of her poetical genius" Monthly Review 36 (September 1801) 26.

British Critic: "This we believe to have been the last poetical production of this celebrated, but unfortunate female. Mrs. Robinson unquestionably possessed talents and accomplishments which might have adorned and improved society. We have had frequent occasion to commend, though incidentally just reason to censure, various publications of her pen, both in prose and verse. She had a lively imagination, and much practice had taught her the art of writing with great facility, and some elegance. This volume is distinguished by both the above-mentioned qualities, and we regret that there is not among these Tales one that its length will allow us to insert as a specimen. We think the last Tale, which is called Golfre, a Gothic Swiss Tale, by far the best" 18 (August 1801) 193.

Poetical Register for 1801: "Mrs. Robinson's style of composition has been generally considered as distinguished by an inflation of language, a fondness for dazzling imagery, and a redundance of epithet. Less of them is perhaps to be found in her present, than in her former publications, but they are still too predominant" (1802; 1815) 367.



Dark was the dawn, and o'er the deep
The boist'rous whirlwinds blew;
The Sea-bird wheel'd its circling sweep,
And all was drear to view,
When on the beach that binds the western shore
The love-lorn ZELMA stood, list'ning the tempest's roar.

Her eager Eyes beheld the main,
While on her DRACO dear
She madly call'd, but call'd in vain,
No sound could DRACO hear,
Save the shrill yelling of the fateful blast,
While ev'ry Seaman's heart quick shudder'd as it past.

White were the billows, wide display'd
The clouds were black and low;
The Bittern shriek'd, a gliding shade
Seem'd o'er the waves to go!
The livid flash illum'd the clam'rous main,
While ZELMA pour'd, unmark'd, her melancholy strain.

"Be still!" she cries, "loud tempest cease!
O! spare the gallant souls!"
The thunder rolls — the winds increase—
The Sea like mountains rolls.
While from the deck the the storm-worn victims leap,
And o'er their struggling limbs the furious billows sweep.

"O! barb'rous Pow'r! relentless Fate!
Does Heaven's high will decree
That some should sleep on beds of state—
Some in the roaring Sea?
Some nurs'd in splendour deal Oppression's blow,
While worth and DRACO pine — in Slavery and woe!

"Yon vessel oft has plough'd the main
With human traffic fraught;
Its cargo — our dark Sons of pain—
For worldly treasure bought!
What had they done? O Nature tell me why
Is taunting scorn the lot of thy dark progeny?

"Thou gav'st, in thy caprice, the Soul
Peculiarly enshrin'd;
Nor from the ebon Casket stole
The Jewel of the mind!
Then wherefore let the suff'ring Negro's breast
Bow to his fellow MAN, in brighter colours drest.

"Is it the dim and glossy hue
That marks him for despair?
While men with blood their hands embrue,
And mock the wretch's pray'r,
Shall guiltless Slaves the scourge of tyrants feel,
And, e'en before their God! unheard, unpitied kneel.

"Could the proud rulers of the land
Our Sable race behold;
Some bow'd by Torture's giant hand,
And other's basely sold!
Then would they pity Slaves, and cry, with shame,
Whate'er their TINTS may be, their SOULS are still the same!

"Why seek to mock the Ethiop's face?
Why goad our hapless kind?
Can features alienate the race—
Is there no kindred mind?
Does not the cheek which vaunts the roseate hue
Oft blush for crimes that Ethiops never knew?

"Behold! the angry waves conspire
To check the barb'rous toil!
While wounded Nature's vengeful ire
Roars round this trembling Isle!
And hark! her voice re-echoes in the wind—
Man was not form'd by Heav'n to trample on his kind!

"Torn from my mother's aching breast,
My Tyrant sought my love—
But in the grave shall ZELMA rest,
Ere she will faithless prove;
No, DRACO! — Thy companion I will be
To that celestial realm where Negros shall be free!

"The Tyrant WHITE MAN taught my mind
The letter'd page to trace;
He taught me in the Soul to find
No tint, as in the face:
He bade my reason blossom like the tree—
But fond affection gave the ripen'd fruits to thee.

"With jealous rage he mark'd my love;
He sent thee far away;
And prison'd in the plaintain grove
Poor ZELMA pass'd the day;
But ere the moon rose high above the main
ZELMA and Love contriv'd to break the Tyrant's chain.

"Swift, o'er the plain of burning Sand
My course I bent to thee;
And soon I reach'd the billowy strand
Which bounds the stormy Sea.
DRACO! my Love! Oh yet thy ZELMA'S soul
Springs ardently to thee, impatient of controul.

"Again the lightning flashes white
The rattling cords among!
Now, by the transient vivid light,
I mark the frantic throng!
Now up the tatter'd shrouds my DRACO flies,
While o'er the plunging prow the curling billows rise.

"The topmast falls — three shackled slaves
Cling to the Vessel's side!
Now lost amid the madd'ning waves—
Now on the mast they ride—
See! on the forecastle my DRACO stands,
And he now he waves his chain, now clasps his bleeding hands.

"Why, cruel WHITE-MAN! when away
My sable Love was torn,
Why did you let poor ZELMA stay,
On Afric's sands to mourn?
No! ZELMA is not left, for she will prove
In the deep troubled main her fond — her faithful Love!"

The lab'ring Ship was now a wreck,
The shrouds were flutt'ring wide;
The rudder gone, the lofty deck
Was rock'd from side to side—
Poor ZELMA'S eyes now dropp'd their last big tear,
While from her tawny cheek the blood recoil'd with fear.

Now frantic, on the sands she roam'd,
Now shrieking stopp'd to view
Where high the liquid mountains foam'd
Around the exhausted crew—
'Till, from the deck, her DRACO'S well-known form
Sprung 'mid the yawning waves, and buffetted the storm.

Long, on the swelling surge sustain'd,
Brave DRACO sought the shore,
Watch'd the dark Maid, but ne'er complain'd,
Then sunk, to gaze no more!
Poor ZELMA saw him buried by the wave,
And, with her heart's true Love, plung'd in a wat'ry grave.

[Works (1806) 2:170-75]