Pity For Poor Africans.

A poem by William Cowper

Video meliora proboque,
Deteriora sequor.


I own I am shock’d at the purchase of slaves,
And fear those who buy them and sell them are knaves;
What I hear of their hardships, their tortures, and groans,
Is almost enough to draw pity from stones.


I pity them greatly, but I must be mum,
For how could we do without sugar and rum?
Especially sugar, so needful we see?
What, give up our desserts, our coffee, and tea!


Besides, if we do, the French, Dutch, and Danes
Will heartily thank us, no doubt, for our pains;
If we do not buy the poor creatures, they will,
And tortures and groans will be multiplied still.


If foreigners likewise would give up the trade,
Much more in behalf of your wish might be said;
But, while they get riches by purchasing blacks,
Pray tell me why we may not also go snacks?


Your scruples and arguments bring to my mind
A story so pat, you may think it is coin’d,
On purpose to answer you, out of my mint;
But I can assure you I saw it in print.


A youngster at school, more sedate than the rest,
Had once his integrity put to the test;
His comrades had plotted an orchard to rob,
And ask’d him to go and assist in the job.


He was shock’d, sir, like you, and answer’d, “Oh no!
What! rob our good neighbour! I pray you, don’t go;
Besides, the man’s poor, his orchard’s his bread,
Then think of his children, for they must be fed.”


“You speak very fine, and you look very grave,
But apples we want, and apples we’ll have;
If you will go with us, you shall have a share,
If not, you shall have neither apple nor pear.”


They spoke, and Tom ponder’d—“I see they will go;
Poor man! what a pity to injure him so!
Poor man! I would save him his fruit if I could,
But staying behind will do him no good.


“If the matter depended alone upon me,
His apples might hang till they dropp’d from the tree;
But, since they will take them, I think I’ll go too,
He will lose none by me, though I get a few.”


His scruples thus silenced, Tom felt more at ease,
And went with his comrades the apples to seize;
He blamed and protested, but join’d in the plan:
He shared in the plunder, but pitied the man.

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