The Storm.

Morning Post and Fashionable World (3 February 1796).

Mary Robinson

Ten irreglar Spenserians. As the waves beat high, Mary looks upon the foundering ship that contains her beloved William and shrieks aloud. She questions how a just God could permit such things to happen, and delivers a monologue on the injustice of of the slave trade. We may infer that the ship is a slaver: "Behold the angry waves conspire | To check the barb'rous toil! | While wounded NATURE'S vengeful ire, | Roars round our trembling Isle!" William appears on deck, only to perish, uncomplaining, within sight of the white cliffs of Albion.

Mary Robinson later re-wrote and amplified this rather lurid poem as The Negro Girl, changing the names from Nancy and William to Zelma and Draco, and the setting to a plantation. The attempt to abolish the slave trade, which had been making progress in Parliament, was derailed by the war with France.

Dark was the dawn! and o'er the deep
The chilling whirlwinds blew;
The Sea-bird wheel'd it's circling sweep,
And all was drear to view!
When, on the sandy beach that binds our shore,
The love-lorn NANCY shriek'd, amidst the deaf'ning roar.

Her streaming eyes beheld the main,
While on her WILLIAM dear
She madly call'd, but call'd in vain—
No sound could WILLIAM hear,
Save the shrill yelling of the fateful blast,
While ev'ry mesmate's heart, quick shudder'd as it past!

"Be still," she cried, "loud tempest cease,"
Ah! spare the gallant souls!
Mysterious Heav'n! the winds increase!
The sea, like mountains, rolls!
While from the deck the storm-drench'd victims leap,
And, o'er their lifeless forms, the furious billows sweep!

"Oh! Cruel Pow'r! Oh! ruthless fate!
Does HEAV'N'S high will decree,
That some should sleep on beds of State—
Some in the roaring sea?
Some, nurs'd in lux'ry, deal Oppression's Blow,
While humble MERIT pines in Poverty and Woe!"

"Cou'd the proud Rulers of the Land
The SABLE Race behold;
Some bow'd by torture's giant hand!
And others, bought with gold!
Then wou'd they pity SLAVES, and cry with shame,
Whate'er our Tints may be, our SOULS are still the same."

"Why seek to mock the ETHIOP'S face?
Why goad the hapless kind?
Can Features alienate the race?
Is there no Kindred MIND?
Does not the cheek that vaunts the roseate hue,
Oft blush for crimes that ETHIOP never knew!"

"Behold the angry waves conspire
To check the barb'rous toil!
While wounded NATURE'S vengeful ire,
Roars round our trembling Isle!
Methinks her voice re-echoes in the wind,
MAN was not form'd by HEAV'N to trample on his kind."

The lab'ring Ship was now a wreck,
The shrouds were fluttring wide;
The guns thrown o'er, the lofty deck
Was rock'd from side to side!
Poor NANCY'S cheek was bath'd with pity's tear,
And from her icy lip, the blood recoil'd with fear!

Now on the yielding sand she roam'd,
And madd'ning at the view!
Mark'd where the liquid mountains foam'd,
Around the' exhausted crew!
Till, from the forecastle, her WILLIAM'S form
Sprang 'midst the yawning waves, and buffetted the storm.

Long, on the swelling surge sustain'd,
Brave WILLIAM sought the shore;
Watch'd the white cliffs — but ne'er complain'd,
Then sunk — to gaze no more!
Poor NANCY saw him buried by the wave,
And, with her heart's true love, plung'd in a WATRY GRAVE!