Fanny Holcroft, "The Negro" (1797)



(The Lines in Italics excepted.)

TRANSPIERC'D with many a streaming
  The Negro lay, invoking death :
His blood o'erflowe'd the reeking ground  
  He, gasping, drew his languid breath.

His sable cheek was ghastly, cold ;
  Convulsive groans their prison broke :
His eyes in fearful horror roll'd,
  While thus the wretch his anguish spoke:

" Accursed be the Christian race ;
  Insatiate is their iron foul :
To hunt our sons  their fav'rite chace  
  They goad and lash without control.

" Torn from our frantic mother's breast,
  We bear our tyrant's galling chains ;
Deny'd e'en death, that lulls to rest,
  The keenest woe, and fiercest pains.

" From sun to sun the Negro toils ;
  No smiles approve his trusty care ;
And, when th' indignant mind recoils,
  His doom is whips, and black despair.

" Yet Christians teach faith, hope, and love :
  Their God of mercy oft implore ;
But can barbarians mercy prove,
  Or a benignant God adore ?

" Hear then my groans, oh, Christian God !
  Thy curses hurl  but, no ! forbear.
Let Christians wield Oppression's rod,
  Spread hatred, woe, and wild despair.

" While I a nobler course pursue,
  Yes, let me die as I would live !
Yes, let me teach this Christian crew,
  The dying Negro can forgive.

" And if, indeed, that pow'r be thine,
  O Christian God! In mercy move
Thy people's hearts, by pow'r divine,
  To justice, gentleness, and love."

The suff'rer ceas'd, death chilled his veins ;
  His mangl'd limbs grew stiff and cold ;
Yet whips nor racks inflict the pains
  Men feel who barter Man for Gold.

(back to top)

Notes on the poem

(back to top)


Fanny Holcroft (1780-1844) is usually mentioned in conjunction with her radical father, Thomas Holcroft, and the relationship between father and daughter seems to have been a close one. Holcroft continually expressed his pride in Fanny's promise as a writer, an artist, and a pianist, and Fanny performed for all of her father's visitors. Even though Holcroft left his daughters and their mother, his third wife, totally unprovided for, Fanny remained at her father's side until his death in 1809. When Holcroft could no longer afford to pay an amanuensis, Fanny filled this void by copying plays, taking dictation, and transcribing letters. She acted as an informal critic, not only for her father, but also for William Godwin. Although Fanny appears to have been docile, romantic, and submissive, Charles Lamb, a family friend, noted her stoic, determined, and independent nature on several occasions. She was employed as a governess for a short period of time in 1802, and there are hints that her dismissal may have been induced either by a reportedly treasonous act of her father or by her own irrational disposition. From 1805-1806, Fanny translated seven plays (from German, Italian, and Spanish) for the Theatrical Recorder, her father's project. She later wrote a melodrama of her own, The Goldsmith, which was performed in 1827. Holcroft so appreciated his daughter's support that he lovingly dedicated The Vindictive Man to her. Fanny, in turn, dedicated her second novel, 1817's Fortitude and Frailty, to the memory of her father.

Fanny never published a book of verse; however, at least eight of her poems appeared in the Monthly Magazine between 1797 and 1803. "The Negro" questions the hypocritical nature of Christian slave traders. Originally condemning the entire Christian race, the Negro changes his curse to a prayer that these men will resolve their wrongs and alter their ways. The Negro, through his own lofty belief system, wants to teach the "Christian crew" the value of forgiveness, and the poem suggests that men "who barter Man for Gold" internally pay for their transgressions. This poem was first published in the Monthly Magazine in 1797, and the text appearing here was taken from that volume. "The Negro" may not have appeared in any other context.

(back to top)

Bibliographical note

Holcroft, Fanny, "The Negro." IV, Monthly Magazine (London: October, 1797), 289.
(back to top)

This hypertext was created on October 18, 1999, by Alan Richardson with the assistance of Rosanne Colosi on November 2, 1999.