Joanna Baillie, "School Rhymes for Negro Children," "Rhymes for Chanting," "Devotional Song for a Negro Child" (1840)


How happy are we in that hour we love,
When shadows grow longer and branches move;
  Blithe urchins then we be!
From the school's low porch with a joyous shout,
We rush and we run and we gambol about,
  So careless, light and free!

And the good child merrily plays his part,
For all is well in his guileless heart,
  The glance of his eye is bright.
We hop and we leap and we toss the ball;
Some dance to their shadows upon the wall,
  And spread out their hands with delight.

The parrot that sits on her bough a-swinging,
The bird and the butterfly, light air winging,
  And scarcely more happy, I trow.
Then hey for the meadow, the glade and the grove,
For evening is coming and branches move,
  We'll have merry pastime now.


BUTTERFLY, butterfly, speed through the air,
  The ring-bird follows thee fast,
And the monkey looks up with a greedy stare;
  Speed on till the peril be past!

O, wert thou but safe in my garden bower,
  And wouldst thou no further stray,
Thou shouldst feed on the rose and the gilliflower,
  And be my play-mate gay.


WHEN, at rising morn we lave
Our dark limbs in the shiny wave,
When beneath the palm-tree shade,
We rest awhile in freshness laid,
And, when our early task is done,
Whom should we love to think upon?

When we noonday slumber take,
In grassy glade or bowery brake,
Where humming birds come glancing by,
And stingless snakes untwisted lie,
And quietly sounds the beetle's drone,
Whom should we love to think upon?

When, all awake, we shout and sing,
And dance and gambol in a ring,
Or, healthful hunger to relieve,
Our stated wholesome meals receive,    
When this is past and day is done,
Whom should we love to think upon?

On God the giver of all good,
Who gives us life, and rest, and food,
And cheerful pastime, late and early,
And parents kind who love us dearly;    
God hath our hearts with goodness won,
Him will we love to think upon.

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Notes on the poems

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Joanna Baillie, (September 11, 1762-February 23,1851), was a Scottish playwrite and poet. She was born in Lanarkshire of an old family which claimed descent from the Scottish hero, Sir William Wallace. Her father was a Presbyterian minister, and she led a sternly repressed childhood. Baillie was sent to school in Glasgow at the age of ten. She was particularly interested in music, drawing, composition, and, rather unusually, mathematics. In 1790 she published an anonymous collection of poems, many of which were later included in the 1840 volume, Fugitive Verses. Although the 1790 volume encountered almost absolute silence and quickly sunk into oblivion (so much so that no copy is known to be extant), Baillie did not give up her literary aspirations. In the preface to Fugitive Verses Baillie writes: "In preparing them [the poems from the 1790 collection] for this collection, they have undergone very little more than verbal corrections, with the expunging or alternation of a line here and there, and have never received the addition of new thoughts. Baillie created many "reading plays," challenging the limitations of contemporary stage presentation. Nevertheless, many famous actors of the time, such as John Kemble, thought highly of one of them and one, DeMontfort was produced in 1800. Baillie's published plays continued to appear, interspersed with volumes of verse. In 1836, she brought out three more volumes of Miscellaneous Plays. Byron and other leading writers of the day spoke of Baillie with high praise, and she was ranked as a dramatist "second only to Shakespeare." As Anne K. Mellor points out in her essay, "Am I Not a Woman, and a Sister?", in two of Baillie's plays--Rayner (1804) and The Alienated Manor (1836)--she displays a "tension between black moral authority and black cultural inferiority" through her choice of language (320-321). Baillie was known for her simplicity of nature, unbounded charity, and marked moral courage and integrity. In her religious views she became a Unitarian. She died finally by a sort of mental suicide: at eighty-nine she was tired of life, said so, went to bed, and died.

"Rhymes for Chanting," "Devotional Song for a Negro Child" and "School Rhymes for Negro Children" are poems Baillie wrote for the use of African children. She apparently believed that black children should be educated in the culture, language, and values of Great Britain, in keeping with the civilizing and Christianizing ethos of the time. The poems are didactic, aiming to educate, instead of exploit, the "negro" children they address while creating an atmosphere of protection and happiness. Baillie's style in these poems is readily understood and perhaps intened for African children to chant and memorize rather than read. These poems address the anti-slavery cause obliquely, endorsing (and perhaps meant to further) missionary efforts and assuming the educability of African children,whle attempting to capture the minds of African children and invite them into British culture.

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Bibliographical note

Baillie, Joanna, "School Rhymes for Negro Children," Fugitive Verses (London: Edward Moxon, 1840), pp. 201-2; "Rhymes for Chanting," Fugitive Verses, p. 204; "Devotional Song for a Negro Child," Fugitive Verses, pp. 205-6. Reprinted in The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Joanna Baillie (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1851), pp. 806-7.
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This hypertext was created on November 2, 1999, by Mari Alisa Marchionte.