Charles Dibdin, "Negro Slave" (1807)

Negro Slave

(Music by, V. de Cleve    Bland and Weller.)

  YE children of Pleasure, come hither and see
  A sight that shall check your irreverent glee!
  Ye children of Woe, hear a tale which awhile
  A sense of your own various griefs shall beguile!
Thy tear at that tale, divine sympathy! shed;
  Rejoice, sweet Compassion! at viewing this grave;
Here wretchedness hides unmolested his head,
  For under this turf lies a poor Negro Slave!

  Depriv'd of whatever endears us to life,
  His country, his freedom, his children, and wife!
  Grown mad with reflection, his spirit he freed   
  With pity, ye rigid, contemplate the deed!
His corpse, unregarded, disgrac'd the highway;
  'Till, blushing, Humanity's credit to save,
With tenderness, Charity hasten'd to pay
  Morality's due to the poor Negro Slave!

  Ye kind passers by, who this sport turn to view,
  The tribute bequeath to his mem'ry due   
  May peace watch his pillow whose breast can bestow
  A generous sigh to the annals of woe!
The sigh that you heave, and the tear that you shed,
  Remembrance on heaven's blest records shall 'grave;
But vengeance shall heavily fall on each head
  That spurn'd and oppress'd him, a poor Negro Slave!

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Charles Dibdin (1768-1833), also known as Charles Issac Mungo, was the product of an illicit romance between Charles Dibdin (1745-1814), a well known dramatist and musical composer, and Harriet Pitt, an actress. Charles, the younger (as he is often referred to) lived at a time when abolition was a most pressing issue in England and around the world. Dibdin, however, was first and foremost concerned with the theater. Indeed, he received the name "Mungo" from his father in remembrance of a character the elder Charles was playing in Isaac Bickerstaff's opera The Padlock at the time of Charles's birth. Charles the younger inherited his father's passion for the stage. In life he was a proprietor and acting manager of Sadler's Wells Theatre. Although arguably less accomplished than his father, Dibdin created many plays and songs,some of which still survive today. Among the best known is "The Farmer's Wife," a comic opera written in 1814. Charles the younger had eleven children with his cherished wife Mary Bates, an actress, the best known being Henry Edward Dibdin (1813-1866). Charles Dibdin was a man who strongly believed in the established church and state, and who upheld strict moral values. He lived a rather difficult life, like many actors, but was a caring and loving son, brother, husband and father, whose life revolved around his love for the stage.

The "Negro Slave," is a rather simple yet endearing song, which reflects the sentiments of many people living at the time of the Abolitionist movement. It describes the epitaph of an "iron grave-stone," as it is described in "The Song Smith", a section (which includes this poem) found within Mirth and Metre (1807). This epitaph acknowledges the hardships of slave life with the words "Woe" and "wretchedness," and casts shame upon those who "oppress'd him, a poor Negro Slave!" In its simplicity, this poem breathes the power of the ever growing opinion that slavery was morally wrong. Dibdin even goes as far as to paraphrase, in the last three lines of the song, the Biblical statement that on the day of judgment the oppressed shall be blessed and the oppressors shall be "heavily" punished.

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Bibliographical note

Dibdin, Charles, "Negro Slave," Mirth and Metre (London:Printed for Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe, 1807), pp. 89-90.
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This hypertext was created on November 3, 1999, by Rebecca Carbeau.