1788
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Slave, an American Eclogue.

Poems chiefly on Slavery and Oppression, with Notes and Illustrations. By Hugh Mulligan.

Hugh Mulligan


In the first of Hugh Mulligan's four times-of-day eclogues, a monologue with refrain, the slave Adala wakens to bemoan his condition on a Virginia plantation and curse his oppressors: "Oh hear a suppliant wretch's last sad prayer! | Dart fiercest rage! infect the ambient air! | This pallid race, whose hearts are bound in steel, | By dint of suff'ring teach them how to feel" p. 6. In a note he says that "The First and Fourth of these Eclogues were published some years ago in a respectable publication, and evidently furnished the hint to some publications which have since appeared" p. 81. This might be a reference to two very similar American Eclogues by George Gregory, published 1783-84, but more likely to Edward Rushton's West-Indian Eclogues, anonymously-published in 1787. Gregory and Mulligan were both Irishmen, and Mulligan, like Rushton, seems to have been a resident of Liverpool. In the extensive commentary appended to the poem Mulligan quotes from Gregory's Sermons (1787), along with discussions of slavery by William Paley, Abbe Raynal, and John Wesley.

The general scheme of the eclogues derives from Pope's quartet of Pastorals, though by this date the fourfold pattern had become conventional. Mulligan's original contribution is his geographical scheme, setting the eclogues on four different continents. While geographical specificity had become a feature of many eighteenth-century eclogues, Mulligan makes rather perfunctory use of it. His larger point is that the British Empire is uniformly fostering oppression throughout the world. The volume is dedicated to William Wilberforce, leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade: "Continue, Sir, by your excellent example to correct the profligacy and dissipation of the times, and to make the most effectual stand against the pernicious influence of fashion and levity" p. iii.

Ralph Griffiths: "Mr. Mulligan is to be esteemed as the Poet of Humanity; nor are his literary pretensions confined to the benevolence of his spirit, and the choice of his themes. He has a fruitful and fervid imagination; and his numbers are, for the most part, harmonious. Sometimes he gives us a faulty line, and a bad rhyme; but we can easily forgive little defects, for the sake of his good sentiments, and the general merit of his compositions" Monthly Review 78 (May 1788) 387-88.

European Magazine: "The author of these poems commences with four eclogues from the four cardinal points, East, West, North, and South; Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. It is not one of the least inconveniences attending the visionary speculations in favour of negro emancipation, that the press has groaned under stupid moral prose, or still more intollerable verse. Our author too will contribute his mite, and paint the wrongs of wretched Africa" 13 (June 1788) 415.



TIME — MORNING.
SCENE — A PLANTATION IN VIRGINIA.

Safe from the wild banditti's fierce alarms,
From civil strife and foreign despot's arms,
Tho' mild Virginia boast her peaceful plain,
Yet there in blood her petty tyrants reign.
With pines wide waving tho' the woods be crown'd,
Tho' the green vales with living wealth abound,
Bright on her fields tho' ripening rays descend,
And rich with blushing fruit the branches bend;
To those who ne'er must freedom's blessings taste,
'Tis barren all, 'tis all a cheerless waste.

Whilst hoarse the cat'ract murmurs on the gale,
And the chill night-dew sweeps along the vale;
Whilst the loud storm amidst the mountains howls,
And light'ning gleams, and deep the thunder rolls,
Beneath a leafless tree, ere morn arose,
The slave ADALA thus laments his woes:

"Ye grisly spectres, gather round my fear,
From caves unblest, that wretches groans repeat!
Terrific forms from misty lakes arise!
And bloody meteors threaten thro' the skies!
Oh! curs'd destroyers of our hapless race,
Of human-kind the terror and disgrace!
Lo! hosts of dusky captives, to my view,
Demand a deep revenge! demand their due!
And frowning chiefs now dart athwart the gloom,
And o'er the salt-sea wave pronounce your doom—
But Gods are just, and oft the stroke forbear,
To plunge the guilty deeper in despair.
Lift high the scourge, my soul the rack disdains,
I pant for Freedom and my native plains!

"With limbs benumb'd my poor companions lie;
Oppress'd by pain and want the aged sigh:
Thro' reedy huts the driving tempest pours;
Their fest'ring wounds receive the sickly show'rs.
In madd'ning draughts our Lords their senses steep,
And doom their slaves to stripes and death, in sleep;
Now, while the bitter blast surrounds my head,
To times long past my restless soul is led,
Far, far beyond the azure hills to groves
Of ruddy fruit, where beauty fearless roves—
O blissful seats! O self-approving joys!
Nature's plain dictates! ignorance of vice!
O guiltless hours! Our cares and wants were few,
No arts of luxury, or deceit, we knew:
Our labour sport — to tend our cottage care,
Or from the palm the luscious juice prepare;
To sit, indulging love's delusive dream,
And snare the silver tenants of the stream;
Or (nobler toil) to aim the deadly blow,
With dext'rous art, against the spotted foe.
O days, with youthful daring mark'd! — 'twas then
I dragg'd the shaggy monster from his den;
And boldly down the rocky mountain's side
Hurl'd the fierce panther in the foaming tide:
Our healthful sports a daily feast afford,
And ev'ning found us at the social board.

"Can I forget? Ah me! the fatal day,
When half the vale of peace was swept away!
Affrighted maids in vain the gods implore,
And weeping view from far the happy shore;
The frantic dames impatient ruffians seize,
And infants shriek, and clasp their mother's knees;
With galling fetters soon their limbs are bound,
And groans throughout the noisome bark resound.

"Why was I bound? Why did not WHIDAH see
ADALA gain or death or victory?
No storms arise, no waves revengeful roar,
To dash the monsters on our injur'd shore.

"Long o'er the foaming deep to worlds unknown
By envious winds the bulky ship was blown.
While by disease and chains the weak expire,
Or parch'd, endure the slow consuming fire.
Who in this land of many griefs would live?
Where Death's the only comfort tyrants give!
Tyrants unblest! each proud of strict command,
Nor age nor sickness stays the driver's hand;
Whose hearts, in adamant involv'd, despise
The drooping female's tears, the infant's cries;
From whose stern brows no grateful look e'er beams,
Whose blushless front nor rape nor murder shames.
—Nor all I blame; for NARBAL, friend to peace,
Through his wide pastures bids oppression cease;
No drivers goad, no galling fetters bind,
Nor stern compulsion damps th' exalted mind.
ARCONA there is fated to enjoy
Domestic sweets, and rear his progeny;
To till his glebe employs ARCONA'S care;
Thy God, O NARBAL! nightly hears his pray'r:
A mind at ease, of Christian truths may boast!—
He has no wife, no lovely offspring lost.
Gay his SAVANNAH blooms, while mine appears
Scorch'd up with heat, or moist with blood and tears.
Cheerful his hearth in chilling winter burns,
While to the storm the sad ADALA mourns.
Lift high the scourge, my soul the rack disdains;
I pant for Freedom and my native plains!

"Shall I his holy Prophet's aid implore,
And wait for justice on another shore?
Or, rushing down yon mountain's craggy steep,
End all my sorrows in the sullen deep?
A cliff there hangs in yon grey morning cloud,
The dashing wave beneath roars harsh and loud—
But doubts and fears involve my anxious mind,
The gulph of death once pass'd, what shore we find?
Dubious, if, sent beyond th' expanded main,
The soul shall seek its native realms again;
Or if in gloomy mists condemn'd to lie,
Beyond the limits of yon arching sky—
A better prospect oft my spirit cheers,
And in my dreams the vale of peace appears,
And fleeting visions of my former life;
My hoary sire I clasp — my long-lost wife—
And oft I kiss my gentle babes in sleep,
Till with the sounding whip I wake to weep—
Lift high the scourge, my soul the rack disdains;
I pant for Freedom and my native plains!

"Chiefs of the earth, and monarchs of the sea,
Who vaunt your hardy ancestors were free;
Whose teachers plead the injur'd captive's cause,
And prove the wisdom of your Prophet's laws;
To force and fraud if justice must give place,
Your realm shall suffer by some stronger race:
Some stronger race your flocks shall force away;
Like Afric's tribes your children must obey:
The very Gods that view our constant toil,
Shall see your offspring till a ruder soil;
The pain of thirst and pinching hunger know,
And all the torments that from bondage flow,
When far remov'd from Christian worlds, we prove
The sweets of peace, the lasting joys of love.
But hark! the whip now echo's thro' the trees!
On ev'ry trembling limb fresh horrors seize—
Alas, 'tis day, and here I sit alone!
Be strong, my soul, and part without a groan.
Ruffians, proceed! ADALA ne'er shall swerve!
Prepare the rack, and strain each aching nerve!
Lift high the scourge, my soul the rack disdains;
I pant for Freedom and my native plains!

"Thou God, who gild'st with light the rising day!
Who life dispensest by thy genial ray!
Will thy slow vengeance never, never fall,
But undistinguish'd favour shine on all?
Oh hear a suppliant wretch's last sad prayer!
Dart fiercest rage! infect the ambient air!
This pallid race, whose hearts are bound in steel,
By dint of suff'ring teach them how to feel.

"Or to some despot's lawless will betray'd,
Give them to know, what wretches they have made!
Beneath the lash let them resign their breath,
Or court, in chains, the clay-cold hand of death.
Or, worst of ills! within each callous breast
Cherish, uncurb'd, the dark internal pest,
Bid AV'RICE swell with undiminish'd rage,
While no new worlds th' accursed thirst assuage;
Then bid the monsters on each other turn,
The fury passions in disorder burn;
Bid Discord flourish, civil crimes increase,
Nor one fond wish arise that pleads for Peace—
Till with their crimes, in wild confusion hurl'd,
They wake to anguish in a future world."

[pp. 1-7]