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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ENGLAND AND AMERICA—1863.[The following high-toned and expressive poem is taken
from the new volume of poems by Richard Monckton
Milnes, lately elevated to the English peerage under the
title of Lord Houghton. He is one of the most respected
and beloved noblemen in England, and a man of compre-
hensive intellect, exquisite culture and refinement. He is
distinguished for the sweetness of his character and the
unwearied practical beneficence of his life. His friendship
to our country has always been strong and steady.]
We only know that in the sultry weather, Men toiled for us as in the steaming room, And in our minds we hardly set together The bondman's penance and the freeman's loom.
We never thought the jealous gods would store For us ill deeds of time-forgotten graves, Nor heeded that the May Flower one day bore A freight of pilgrims, and another slaves.
First on the bold upholders of the wrong, And last on us, the heavy-laden years Avenge the cruel triumphs of the strong— Trampled affections, and derided tears.
Labor, degraded from her high behest, Cries, "Ye shall know I am the living breath, And not the curse of man. Ye shall have Rest— The rest of Famine and the rest of Death."
O, happy distant hours! that shall restore Honor to work, and pleasure to repose, Hasten your steps, just heard above the war Of wildering passions and the crash of foes.
- Richard Monckton Milnes, first Baron Houghton (1809–1885). Before Milnes was made Baron Houghton in August 1863, he served as a member of Parliament for Pontefract in West Yorkshire. The "new volume" was Selections from the Poetical Works of Richard Monckton Milnes (1863); "England and America, 1863" appeared under the heading "Occasional Poems." It was also the penultimate piece in Isa Craig's Poems: An Offering to Lancashire (1863), a collection intended to raise funds for the relief of mill workers then suffering as a result of the "cotton famine" caused by the Union blockade of Southern ports during the Civil War. As the amount of raw cotton in Britain fell, cotton mill workers were laid off (James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The American Civil War [London: Penguin, 1991], 548).
- Milnes presents the Civil War and the cotton famine as interlinked punishments for Anglo-American support for slavery and the slave trade. The British Parliament passed its Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies (1833) in Milnes's lifetime. "England and America, 1863" suggests that Britain had to pay for its proslavery past—the past that had helped to shape America's Civil War present.