Robert Anderson, "The Slave" (1798)

The Slave


Torn from every dear connection,
  Forc'd across the yielding wave,
The Negro, stung by keen reflection,
  May exclaim, Man's but a slave!

In youth, gay Hope delusive fools him,
  Proud her vot'ry to deprave;
In age, self-interest over-rules him    
  Still he bends a willing Slave.

The haughty monarch, fearing Reason
  May her sons from ruin save,
Of traitors dreaming, plots and treason,
  Reigns at best a sceptr'd Slave.

His minion, honesty would barter,
  And become Corruption's knave;
Won by ribband, star, or garter,
  Proves himself Ambition's Slave.

Yon Patriot boasts a pure intention,
  And of RIGHTS will loudly rave,
Till silenc'd by a place or pension,
  Th' apostate sits a courtly Slave.

In pulpit perch'd, the pious preacher,
  Talks of conscience wond'rous grave
Yet not content, the tithe-paid teacher
  Pants to loll a mitr'd Slave.

The soldier, lur'd by sounds of glory.
  Longs to shine a hero brave;
And, proud to live in future story,
  Yields his life    to Fame a Slave.

Mark yon poor miser o'er his treasure,
  Who to Want a mite ne'er gave;
He, shut out from peace and pleasure,
  Starves    to Avarice a Slave.

The lover to his mistress bending,
  Pants, nor dares her hand to crave;
Vainly sighing, time misspending-
  Wisdom scorns the fetter'd Slave.

Thus dup'd by Fancy, Pride or Folly,
  Ne'er content with what we have;
Toss'd 'twixt Hope and Melancholy,
  Death at last sets free the Slave.

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Notes on the poem

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Robert Anderson's outrage regarding the slave trade is little wonder, given the influences of his early life. Born on Feb. 1, 1770 in Carlisle, young Robert was educated in a Quaker school, no doubt absorbing that sect's deeply held belief in universal equality. At the age of ten, Anderson was sent off to learn a trade,apprenticed as a calico printer and later as a pattern drawer. It was this work which would support Anderson's poetic life. Deeply influenced by the writing of his contemporary, William Wordsworth, Anderson published his first work, Poems on various Subjects in 1798, dedicating the book to J. C. Curwen, Esq., "as a tribute of respect due to his manly exertions in the cause of freedom." As it would turn out, Anderson's most widely read works were not his politically driven poems, but humorous ballads written in the local Cumbrian dialect: rustic and humorous pieces. Anderson would die in September, 1833.
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Bibliographical note

Anderson, Robert "The Slave," Poems on Various Subjects (London: J. Mitchell, 1798), pp. 22-24.
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This hypertext was created on November 2, 1999, by Will Kemeza.