William Dodd, "The African Prince" and "Zara" (1749)





PRINCES, my fair, unfortunately great,
Born to the pompous vassalage of state,
Whene'er the public calls, are doom'd to fly
Domestic bliss, and break the private tye.
Fame pays with empty breath the toils they bear,
And love's soft joys are chang'd for glorious care.
Yet conscious virtue, in the silent hour,
Rewards the hero with a noble dower.
For this alone I dar'd to part with thee.
But while my bosom feels the nobler flame,
Still, unreprov'd, it owns thy gentler claim.
Tho' virtue's awful form my soul approves.
'Tis thine, thine only, ZARA, that it loves.
A private lot had made the claim but one,
The prince alone must love, for virtue, shun.
Ah! why, distinguish'd from the happier croud.
To me the bliss of millions disallow'd?
Why was I singl'd for imperial sway,
Since love, and duty, point a diff'rent way?
Fix'd the dread voyage, and the day decreed,
When duty's victim, love was doom'd to bleed,
Too well my mem'ry can those scenes renew,
We met to sigh, to weep our last adieu .
That conscious palm, beneath whose tow'ring shade
So oft our vows of mutual love were made;
Where hope so oft anticipated joy,
And plann'd of future years the blest employ;
That palm was witness to the tears we shed,
When that fond hope, and all those joys were fled,
Thy trembling lips, with trembling lips, I press'd,
And held thee panting, to my panting breast.
Our sorrow, grown too mighty to sustain,
Now snatch'd us, fainting, from the sense of pain.
Together sinking us in the trance divine,
I caught thy fleeting soul, and gave thee mine.
O! blest oblivion of tormenting care!
O! why recall'd to life and to despair?
The dreadful summons came, to part - and why?
Why not the kinder summons but to die?
To die together were to part no more,
To land in safety on some peaceful shore,
Where love's the business of immortal life?
And happy spirits only guess at strife.
" If in some distant land my prince should find
" Some nymph more fair, you cry'd, as ZARA kind -
Mysterious doubt ! which cou'd at once impart
Relief to mine, and anguish to thy heart.
Still let me triumph in the fear exprest,
The voice of love that whisper'd in thy breast ;
Nor call me cruel, for my truth shall prove
'Twas but the vain anxiety of love.
        TORN from thy fond embrace, the strand I gain,
Where mourning friends inflict superfluous pain ;
My father there his struggling sighs suppress'd,
And in dumb anguish clasp'd me to his breast ;
 Then sought, conceal'd the conflict of his mind,
To give the fortitude he could not find,
Each life-taught precept kindly he renew'd,
" Thy country's good, said he, he still persu'd!
" If, when the Gods shall here my son restore,
" These eyes shall sleep in death, to wake no more ;
" If then these limbs, that now in age decay,
" Shall mold'ring mix with earth's parental clay ;
" Round my green tomb perform the sacred rite,
" Assume my throne, and let thy yoke be light;
" From lands of freedom glorious precepts bring,
" And reign at once a father and a king.
        How vainly proud, the arrogantly great
Presume to boast a monarch's godlike state!
Subject alike, the peasant and the king,
To life's dark ills, and care's corroding sting.
From guilt and fraud, that strikes in silence sure,
No shield can guard us, and no arms secure.
By these, my fair, subdu'd , thy prince was lost,
A naked captive on a barb'rous coast.
Nurtur'd in ease, a thousand servants round,
My wants prevented, and my wishes crown'd ;
No painful labours stretch'd the tedious day,
On downy feet my moment danc'd away.
Whene'er I look'd, officious courtiers bow'd,
Wher'er I pass'd, a shouting people crowd;
No fears intruded on the joys I knew,
Each man, my friend, my lovely mistress you.
What dreadful change! abandon'd and alone,
The shouted prince is now a slave unknown ;
To watch his eye, no bending courtiers wait,
No hailing crowds proclaim his regal state ;
A slave, condemn'd with unrewarded toil,
To turn, from more to eve, a burning soil.
Fainting beneath the Sun's meridian heat,
Rouz'd by the scourge, the taunting jest I meet:
Thanks to thy friends, they cry, whose care recalls
A prince to life, in whom a nation falls !
Unwholsome scraps my strengths but half sustain'd,
From corner's glean'd, and ev'n by dogs disdain'd ;
At night I mingled with a wretched crew,
Who by long use with woe familiar grew;
Of manners brutish, merciless and rude,
They mock'd my suff'rings and my pangs renew'd;
In groans, not sleep, I pass'd the weary night,
And rose to labour with the morning light.
Yet, thus of dignity land ease beguil'd,
Thus scorn'd and scourg'd, insulted and revil'd,
If heav'n with thee my faithful arms had bles'd,
And fill'd with love my intervals of rest,
Short tho' they were, my soul had never known.
One secret wish to glitter on a throne ;
The toilsome day had heard no sigh of mine,
Nor stripes, nor scorn, had urg'd me to repine.
A monarch still, beyond, a monarch blest;
Thy love my diadem, my throne thy breast ;
My courtiers, watchful of my looks, thy eyes,
Shou'd shine, persuade, arid flatter, and advise ;
Ah ! not the prison of a slave in me !
Cou'd I with infamy content remain,
And wish thy lovely form to share my chain ?
And let the love, that sinn'd, atone the fault.
Cou'd I, a slave, and hopeless to be free,
Crawl, tamely recent from the scourge, to thee?
Thy blooming beauties cou'd these arms embrace?
My guilty joys, enslave an infant race?
No : rather blast me lightnings, whirlwinds tear,
And drive these limbs in atoms thro' the air ;
Rather than this, O ! Curse nme still with life,
And let my ZARA, smile a rival's wife:
Be mine alone th' accumulated woe,
Nor let me propagate my curse below,
        BUT, from this dreadful scene, with joy, I turn,
To trust in heav'n, of me, let ZARA learn.
The wretch, the sordid hypocrite, that sold
His charge, an unsuspecting prince, for gold,
That justice mark'd, whose eyes can never sleep,
And death, commission'd, smote him on the deep.
The gen'rous crew their port in safety gain,
And tell my mournful tale, nor tell in vain ;
The king, with horror of th' atrocious deed,
In haste commanded, and the slave was free'd.
No more BRITTANIA'S cheek, the blush of shame
Burns for my wrongs, her king restores her fame :
Propitious gales, to freedom's happy shore,
Wast me triumphant, and the prince restore;
Whate'er is great and gay around me shine,
And all the splendor of a court is mine.
And knowledge here, by piety refin'd,
Sheds a blest radiance o'er my bright'ning mind ;
From earth I travel upward to the sky ,
I learn to live, to reign, yet more, to die.
O ! I have tales to tell, of love divine -
Such blissful tidings ! they shall soon be thine.
I long to tell thee, what amaz'd, I see,
What habits, buildings, trades, and polity;
How art and nature vye to entertain,
In public shows, and mix delight with pain.
O ! ZARA, & here, a story like my own,
With mimic skill, in borrow'd names, was shown ;
An Indian chief, like me, by fraud betray'd,
And partner in his woes, an Indian maid.
I can't recall the scene, 'tis pain too great,
And, if recall'd should shudder to relate.
To write the wonders here, I strive in vain ;
Each word wou'd ask a thousand to explain.
The time shall come, O! speed the ling'ring hour!
When ZARA's charms shall lend description pow'r;
When plac'd beside thee, in the cool alcove,
Or through the green Savannah as we rove,
The frequent kiss shall interrupt the tale,
And looks shall speak my sense, tho' language fail.
Then shall the prodigies, that round me rise,
Fill thy dear bosom with a sweet surprize;
Then all my knowledge, to thy faithful heart,
With danger gain'd, securely I'll impart.
Methinks I see thy charming looks express
Th' alternate sense of pleasure and distress ;
As all the windings of my fate I trace,
And wing thy fancy swift from place to place.
Yet where, alas! has flatt'ring thoughts convey'd
The ravish'd lover, with his darling maid?
Between us, still, unmeasur'd main,
And hostile barks infest, and storms controul.
Be calm my bosom, since th' unmeasur'd main,
And hostile barks, and storms, are God's domain :
He rules resistless, and his pow'r shall guide
My life in safety o'er the roaring tide ;
Shall bless the love, that's built on virtue's base,
And spare me to evangelize my race.
Farewel! thy prince still lives, and still is free:
Farewel! hope all things, and remember Me.





SHOULD I the language of my heart conceal,
Nor warmly paint the passion that I feel;
My rising wish should groundless fears confine,
And doubts ungen'rous chill the glowing line;
Wou'd not my prince, with nobler warmth, disdain
That love, as languid, which could stoop to feign?
Let guilt dissemble - in my faithful breast
Love reigns unblam'd, and be that love confest.
I give my bosom naked to thy view,
For what has shame with innocence to do?
In fancy, now, I clasp thee to my heart,
Exchange my vows, and all my joys impart.
I catch new transport from thy speaking eye;
But whence this sad, involuntary sigh?
Why pants my bosom with intruding fears?
Why, from my eyes, distill unbidden tears?
Why do my hands thus tremble as I write?
Why fades thy lov'd idea from my sight?
Oh! art thou safe, on Britain's happy shore,
From winds that bellow, and from seas that roar?
And has my prince - (Oh, more than mortal pain !)
Betray'd by ruffians, felt the captive's chain ?
Bound were those limbs, ordain'd alone to prove
The toils of empire, and the sweets of love ?
Hold, hold ! Barbarians of the fiercest kind !
Fear heav'n's red light'ning - 'tis a prince ye bind ;
A prince, whom no indignities could hide,
They knew, presumptuous! and the gods defy'd.
Where'er he moves, let love-join'd rev'rence rise,
And all mankind behold with ZARA's eyes !
THY breast alone, when bounding o'er the waves
To freedom's climes, from slavery and slaves ;
Of what I felt, when thy dear letters came :
A thousand times I held 'em to my breast,
A thousand times my lips the paper prest:
My full heart panted with a joy too strong,
And "Oh my prince !" dy'd falt'ring on my tongue:
Fainting I sunk, unequal to the strife,
And milder joys sustain'd returning life.
Hope, sweet enchantress, round my love-sick head
Delightful scenes of blest delusion spread.
" COME, come, my prince ! my charmer ! haste away;
" Come, come, I cry'd, thy Zara blames thy stay.
" For thee, the shrubs their richest sweets retain ;
" For thee, new colours wait to paint the plain ;
" For thee, cool breezes linger in the grove,
" The birds expect thee in the green alcove ;
" 'Till they return, the rills forget to fall,
" 'Till they return, the sun, the soul of all -
" He comes, my maids, in his meridian charms,
" He comes refulgent to his Zara's arms:
" With jocund songs , proclaim my love's return ;
" Bright as the sun, yet gentle as the dove,
" He comes, uniting majesty and love." -
Too soon, alas ! the blest delusion flies ;
Care swells my breast, and sorrow fills my eyes.
Too vast, too num'rous, those already here ;
Ah ! why with doubts torment my bleeding breast,
Of seas that storms controul, and foes insert:
My heart, in all this tedious absence, knows
No thoughts but those of storms, and seas, and foes.
        EACH joyful morning, with rising sun,
Quick to the strand my feet spontaneous run,
" Where, where's my prince ! what tidings have ye brought ?"
Of each I met, with pleading tears I fought.
In vain I sought some conscious of my pain
With horrid silence pointed to the main.
Some with a sneer the brutal thought exprest,
And plung'd the dagger of a barbarous jest.
Day follow'd day, and still I wish'd the next,
New hopes still flatter'd, and new doubts perplex'd ;
Day follow'd day, the wish'd to-morrow came,
My hopes, doubts, fears, anxieties the same.
        At length - "O Pow'r supreme! whoe'er thou art,
" Thy shrine the sky, the sea, the earth, or heart;
" Since ev'ry clime, and all th'unbounded main,
" And hostile barks, and storms, are thy domain,
" If faithful passion can thy bounty move,
" And goodness sure must be the friend of love,
" Safe to these arms my lovely prince restore,
" Safe to his ZARA's arms, to part no more.
O ! grant to virtue thy protecting care,
" And grant thy love to love's availing pray'r.
" Together, then, and emulous to praise,
" A flow'ry altar to thy name we'll raise ;
" There, first and last, on each returning day,
" To thee our vows of gratitude we'll pay."
        FOOL that I was, to all comfort blind,
Why, when thou went'st, did ZARA stay behind ?
How could I fondly hope one joy to prove,
 'Midst all the wild anxieties of love ?
HAD fate in other mold thy ZARA form'd,
And my bold breast with manly friendship warm'd,
How had I glow'd with exulting at my side,
How all shafts of adverse fate defy'd !
Or yet a woman, and not nerv'd for toil,
Oh! that with thee, I'd turn a burning soil!
In the cold prison had I lain with thee,
In love still happy, we had still been free ;
Then fortune, brav'd, had own'd superior might,
And pin'd with envy, while we forc'd delight.
        Why should'st thou bid thy love remember thee?
Thine all my thoughts have been, and still shall be.
Each night, the cool Savannahs have I sought,
And breath'd the fondness of enamour'd thought ;
The curling breezes murmur'd as I sigh'd,
And hoarse, at distance, roar'd my foe, the tide:
My breast still haunted by a motly train,
Now doubts, now hopes prevail'd, now joy, now pain.
Now fix'd I stand, my spirit fled to thine,
Nor note the time, nor see the sun decline;
Now rouz'd I stand, my spirit fled to thine,
In vain, alas ! for 'tis myself I'd shun.
When kindly sleep its lenient balm supply'd,
And gave that comfort waking thought deny'd,
Last night - but why, ah ZARA! why impart,
The fond, fond fancies of a love sick heart?
Yet true delights on fancy's wings are brought,
And love's soft raptures realiz'd in thought -
Last night I saw, methinks I see it now-
Heav'n's awful concave round thy ZARA bow;
When sudden thence a flaming chariot flew,
Which earth receiv'd, a six white coursers drew ;
Then - quick transition, did thy ZARA ride,
Borne to the chariot - wond'rous - by thy side :
All glorious both, from clime to clime we flew,
Each happy clime with sweet surprize we view.
A thousand voices sung - "All bliss betide
" The prince of Libya, and his faithful bride."
" 'Tis done, 'tis done" resounded thro' the skies,
And quick aloft the car began to rise ;
Ten thousand beauties crowded on my sight,
Ten thousand glories beam'd a dazzling light.
My thoughts could bear no more, the vision fled,
And wretched ZARA view'd her lonely bed. -
Come, sweet interpreter, and ease my soul;
Come to my bosom, and explain the whole.
Alas ! my prince - yet hold, my struggling breast!
Sure we shall meet again, again be blest.
" Hope all, thou say'st, I live, and still am free ;"
Oh then prevent those hopes, and haste to me.
Ease all the doubts thy ZARA's bosom knows,
And kindly stop the torrent of her woes. -
But that I know too well thy gen'rous heart,
One doubt, than all, more torment would impart ;
'Tis this, in Britain's happy courts to shine,
Amidst a thousand blooming maids, is thine -
But thou, a thousand blooming maids among,
Art still thyself, incapable of wrong ;
No outward charm can captivate thy mind,
Thy love is friendship heighten'd and refin'd ;
'Tis what my soul, and not my form inspires,
And burns with spotless and immortal fires.
Thy joys, like mine, from conscious truth arise,
And known these joys, what others canst thou prize ?
Be jealous doubts the curse of sordid minds,
Hence jealous doubts, I give ye to the winds -
ONCE more, O come! and snatch'd me to thy arms ;
Come, shield my beating heart from vain alarms !
Come, let me hang enamour'd on thy breast,
Weep pleasing tears, and be with joy distrest ,
Let me still hear, and still demand thy tale,
And oft renew'd, still let my suit prevail.
Much still remains to tell and to enquire,
My hand still writes, and writing prompts desire ;
My pen denies my last farewell to write,
Still, still, " Return," my wishful thoughts indite:
Oh hear, my prince, thy love, thy mistress call,
Think o'er each tender name, and hear by all.
Oh ! pleasing intercourse of soul with soul,
Thus, while I write, I see, I clasp thee whole ;
In ev'ry line shall bring her to thy view.
Return, return, in love and truth excel ;
Return, I write; I cannot add, - farewel
(back to top)

Notes on the poem

(back to top)


More remembered for his dandyism and landmark public execution, William Dodd's poetry often becomes overshadowed by a shocking life. Scholars from Leslie Stephen's account in the Dictionary of National Biography to Gerald Howson, have remembered Dodd (1729-1777) as a forger who received the death penalty in 1777, earning enough public attention to move the English against capital punishment. Born the eldest son to Reverend William Dodd, Vicar of Bourne, Dodd followed his father in becoming a parson; but he found the identity constraining, as he enjoyed fine clothes, parties and beautiful women. At twenty-one, he secretly married Mary Perkins, a sixteen-year-old girl rumored to be the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich and associated with the theatre. Although he worked hard at his literary career, he occasionally alienated such influential patrons as Bishop Warburton, an associate of Alexander Pope.

Dodd circulated his first volume of poetry while still a university student. Some of his famous works include poetry directed to the Earl of Halifax, following a rather unbelievable incident. According to his biographer, Gerald Howson, English newspapers in 1748 publicized a story of an Arab Sheik of Zanzibar who had entrusted his two sons to an English sea captain, with the request that they be educated in England. Instead, the captain had sold the boys to a slave ship, dying before he could spend the money. The Earl of Halifax, then the Commissioner of Trade and Plantations, persuaded the government to pay the boys' ransom and bring them to England, where they were taught English, baptized, dressed in fine costumes and introduced to society as the "African Princes." In February 1749, The Gentleman's Magazine printed an even more unsettling account of the youths in England, "A Young African Prince, Sold for a Slave. Afterwards Brought to England." According to this source, an English captain made the acquaintance of a Moorish king, who had 40,000 men under his command. This king (thereafter called a "prince") admired the "polite behaviour of the English, entertained them with the greatest civility; and at last reposed such confidence in the captain as to entrust him with his son, about eighteen years of age, with another sprightly youth to be brought to England, and educated in the European manner." However, this source describes the Earl of Halifax's habit of bringing the young men to the Covent Garden theatre to see plays as adaptations of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko.

"They appear sometimes at theatres to see the tragedy of Oroonoko. They were received with a loud clap of applause, which they acknowledged with a very genteel bow, and took their seats in a box. The seeing persons of their own colour on the stage apparently in the same distress from which they had been so lately delivered, the tender interview between Imoinda and Oroonoko, who was betrayed at the treachery of a captain, his account of his sufferings, and the repeated abuse of his placability and confidence, strongly affected them with that generous gift which pure nature always feels and art had not yet taught them to suppress; the young prince was so far overcome, that he was obliged to retire at the end of the fourth act. His companion remained, but wept the whole time; a circumstance which affected the audience yet more than the play, and doubled the tears which were shed for Oroonoko and Imoinda."

In response to this story, later in the year, Dodd published two poems in The Gentleman's Magazine: "The African Prince" and "Zara," dedicating them to the Earl of Halifax. As Howson has argued, the poems were probably printed as an attempt to gain patronage for his writing, rather than out of abolitionist sympathies. It is also worth noting that "Zara," the name given to the love interest of Dodd's "African Prince" is also the name of an African princess in an earlier play by Aaron Hill. The poems were reprinted as separate volumes by Dodd in 1749 with "many able corrections made by a masterly hand," according to the adverstisement to the (1755) second edition (including both poems), which is the source for the texts given above.

In February 1777, Dodd was arrested and charged with forgery: a crime which he eventually paid with his life. However, his famous case brought sympathy to this cause, and eventually an end to capital punishment in England.

(back to top)

Bibliographical note

"The African prince, now in England, to Zara at his father's court," The Gentleman's Magazine19 (July 1749): 323-25 and ZARA, at the Court of Annamabboe, to the African Prince, now in England," The Gentleman's Magazine19 (August 1749): 372-73. Rpt. in The African prince, now in England, to Zara at his father's court. London : printed for J. Payne and J. Bouquet, 1749 and Zara, at the court of Annamaboe, to the African prince, now in England. London : printed for J. Payne and J. Bouquet, 1749. Rpt. (for the first time under Dodd's name) in William Dodd, The African Prince, when in England, to Zara, at his father's court; and Zara's Answer. The Second Edition. London: printed for Mr. Waller and Mr. Ward, 1755.
(back to top)

This hypertext was created on November 1, 1999, by Suzanne Bolos.