"Epilogue to 'The Padlock'"
The Gentleman's Magazine was the biggest selling publication of the late eighteenth century. It was read (or at least bought) by anyone with any pretensions to gentility. It contained news, reviews, features, and original writing and, as one would expect, the debate over the slave trade featured prominently in its pages. Despite the fact that the magazine was in general opposed to abolition of the slave trade, its editors, always hiding behind the pseudonym "Sylvanus Urban", nonetheless allowed a number of poems, mostly favouring abolition, to be featured in its poetry section or to be reviewed in the reviews section. This poem is a supposed additional speech spoken by the character of Mungo in Isaac Bickerstaffe's The Padlock: a comic opera: as it is perform'd by His Majesty's Servants, at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane (London: 1768). Mungo was played by Samuel Dibdin, who performed in blackface. Mungo was a comic figure, a stereotypical black slave, who could be counted on to raise laughs in the eighteenth-century London theatre. Indeed, so popular was the play that the name "Mungo" soon came to be applied in a derogatory way to all black people, as can be seen in many popular prints and newspaper articles of the time. This anonymous poem aims to subvert the comedy and re-establish Mungo as a serious character: as a man. The text given here comes from The Gentleman's Magazine for October 1787 and includes the prefatory note.
Mr. Urban, Sept.24.
EPILOGUE TO THE PADLOCK.
Then let me speak, nor take that freedom ill.
E'en from my tongue some heartfelt truths may fall
And outrag'd nature claims the care of all.
My tale, in any place, would force a tear,
But calls for stronger, deeper feelings here.
For whilst I tread the free-born British land;
Whilst now before me crouded Britons stand;
Vain, vain that glorious privilege to me,
I am a slave, where all things else are free.
Yet was I born, as you are, no man's slave,
An heir to all that liberal Nature gave;
My thoughts can reason, and my limbs can move,
The same as yours; like yours my heart can love:
Alike my body food and sleep sustains;
Alike our wants, our pleasures, and our pains.
One sun rolls o'er us, common skies around;
One globe supports us, and one grave must bound.
Why then am I devoid of all to live,
That manly comforts to a man can give?
To live untaught Religion's sooting balm,
Or life's choice arts; to live, unknown the calm
Of soft domestic ease; those sweets of life,
The duteous offspring, and th'obedient wife.
To live, to property and rights unknown,
Not ev'n the common benefits my own.
No arm to guard me from opression's rod,
My will subservient to a tyrant's nod.
No gentle hand, when life is in decay,
To smooth my pains and charm my cares away;
But helpless left to quit the horrid stage;
Harrass'd in youth and desolate in age.
But I was born in Afric's tawny strand,
And you in fair Britannia's fairer land.
Comes freedom then from colour? Blush with shame,
And let strong Nature's crimson mark your blame.
I speak to Britons—Britons, then, behold
A man by Britons snar'd and seiz'd, and sold.
And yet no British statute damns the deed,
Nor do the more than murderous villains bleed.
O sons of freedom! equalise your laws,
Be all consistent—plead the Negro's cause;
That all the nations in your code may see
The British Negro, like the Briton, free.
But, should he supplicate your laws in vain,
To break for ever this disgraceful chain,
At least, let gentle usage so abate
The galling terrors of its passing state,
That he may share the great Creator's social plan;
For though no Briton, Mungo is a man!