The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing
2013, Volume 34
"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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A VOICE FROM THE CROWD.
DEDICATED TO CHARLES MACKAY, LL.D., "TIMES" SPECIAL
CORRESPONDENT IN AMERICA.
There's a good time coming, boys, A good time coming; We now may see the dawning ray That ushers in the natal day Of the good time coming. Cannons thunder out the news, Their iron throats are stronger; Falsehood takes the place of truth— Wait a little longer.
There's a good time coming, boys, A good time coming; The Northern fanatics shall wail When Southern views alone prevail— In the good time coming. The lash, not love, shall rule mankind, And be acknowledged stronger; Away with abolition cant— Wait a little longer.
There's a good time coming, boys, A good time coming; Freedom in men's eyes shall be A monster of iniquity, In the good time coming. Bondmen cease to live in hope, Your fetters shall be stronger, Pile high the heaps of Northern slain, And wait a little longer.
There's a good time coming, boys, A good time coming; When the Slave Confederacy Recognized by all shall be In the good time coming. Let us aid it all we can, Correspondents—every man, To make the impulse stronger; We shall well rewarded be For our grand apostacy— Wait a little longer!
- Journalist and poet Charles Mackay (1812–1889) became the London Times' New York correspondent in February 1862. As an editor of proven ability and the author of Life and Liberty in America (1859), he must have looked like a fair prospect for the Times. But upon arriving in the United States, Mackay became embroiled in public controversy, which, historian Martin Crawford writes, "confirmed him as a passionate opponent of federal policy toward the South" (The Anglo-American Crisis of the Mid-Nineteenth Century: The Times and America, 1850–1862 [Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987], 130). Still, Times managing editor Mowbray Morris seemed pleased with his work, until the decline of the Confederacy could no longer be ignored. Toward the end of the war, Morris changed his tone, and eventually, in April 1865, Mackay was dismissed as a result of his wild, ranting letters.Mackay's correspondence often celebrated the Confederacy and criticized Lincoln; his views complemented the leaning of the London Times, but they won him little favor in the North. In May 1863, for example, he wrote that in spite of their isolated status and misrepresentation in the North and Britain, "the Confederate States have, nevertheless, won for themselves the respect of all who hold matchless valor in honor, and thrill with the thought that the stubborn energy of their resistance stamps them as what they claim to be—blood of England's blood and bone of her bone" (Times, May 12, 1863). Pro-Union supporters in Britain were similarly unimpressed by Mackay's letters.
- "A Voice from the Crowd" identifies Mackay with a larger group of pro-South newspaper correspondents who use their influence to aid the Confederacy. The poem parodies one of Mackay's anti–Corn Law poems, published in the collection Voices from the Crowd; and Other Poems (1846). In the first edition of Voices, Mackay's poem was titled "Wait a Little Longer"; by 1851 it had been renamed "The Good Time Coming." Versions set to music by Henry Russell and renowned American entertainer Stephen Foster were circulated widely. Performances by the antislavery Hutchinson Family singers helped to establish "The Good Time Coming" as an abolitionist favorite (L. Diane Barnes, "Hutchinson Family," in Encyclopedia of African American History: 1619–1895, From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass, ed. Paul Finkleman [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006], 2:184).Mackay's "Wait a Little Longer" looks forward to a time when war, oppression, and religious conflict will cease; "A Voice from the Crowd" points up the ironic contrast between Mackay's perfectionist vision and his support for the Confederacy. The poem's title also challenges Mackay's earlier claim to speak for the mass of British people; it is the antislavery speaker, not the Times correspondent and author of Voices from the Crowd, who represents the public's true opinion.
- Probably the Evening Star and Dial, a radical London daily edited by Alfred Hutchinson Dymond. Prior to the war, Dymond had worked for the London Morning Star, then the leading opposition paper to the Times (R. J. M. Blackett, Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001], 151). Like Star editor Samuel Lucas, Dymond was a member of the London Emancipation Society.In attributing the reprint to the London Star and Dial, the National Anti-Slavery Standard presented the reprinted text as a British response to Mackay. Presented thus, the reprinted poem can be seen as advocating for a transatlantic, wartime antislavery alliance grounded in the circulation of material texts; as such, the poem may have qualified readers' concerns about pro-Southern sympathy and abolitionist indifference in Britain.