A Briton's Appeal.

And shall great Albion, [whose] defended coast,
The world’s defiance and the Briton’s boast –
Shall she, who stands protectoress of the free –
The tyrant’s dread - “the mistress of the sea;”
The realm which never deaf to freedom’s call,
But like a mount of brass protecting all;
Shall she, whose fame exceeds the sheen of Troy,
Stand like a lambkin while the wolves destroy?
Canst thou behold thy virgin daughter lie,
With cold Starvation staring in her eye;
Thy swarthy son to Hunger’s death consigned,
The tough hard hand, the honest willing mind,
The arm that wields the hammer, and the head
That schemes to get its meet reward in bread,
The happy wife, who works with all her soul,
Weeping for means to fill the humble bowl?
Here view the maiden who with haggard look,
Is struggling hard with hunger in a nook,
All motionless her limbs, speechless her voice,
No hand to raise, no tongue to say “Rejoice;”
Her lips are parched, a sweat bedamps her brow,
Her eye proclaims the battle fiery now;
A wild convulsive pang, a deathly strain,
Again she looks for succour – but in vain;
Within her eye is seen the vivid fire
(Death only can this thrilling glance inspire),
When lo! the spirit from its fetters flies –
Behold – oh Albion’s charity – she dies!
Oh Albion, Albion, whence come all these woes?
Art thou afraid to meet insulting foes?
Dar’st thou not speak because the Indians grin,
And swell the tempest with their yelling din –
Because the spoilers threaten to divest
Thy garden’s grandeur in the crimson west?
Wilt thou not still uphold thy wonted place,
Nor let a Yankee sputter in thy face?
Stand forth, oh nation, bravest of the brave,
Brook not the insult of a slave’s own slave;
And though I would not urge thee on to fight,
Yet for the starving helpless show thy might.
Boldly go forth, thy noble children save
From deathly hunger and the hungry grave.
Yes, go and make the haughty tyrant know
What he inflicts, himself shall undergo.
Ye men of state, O ye who guide the helm,
See how the poor man’s troubles overwhelm;
See how his sons are dying in the shade,
Because they cannot push an honest trade;
Because a nation merc’lessly would smite
The earth with death to make it watch it fight,
Would spoil kind Nature’s beauties with a stroke,
And triumph when God’s gifts consume like smoke;
Who makes a mandate, sanctions it as law,
Which bids the nations stand in silent awe –
A mandate by whose awful, blasting breath,
The poor are “drifted silently to death.”
Behold yon whitewashed cottage in the vale,
The lads, who love the father’s night-long tale;
The lasses, who have just come from the mill,
But like their mother must be busy still;
Who knit, and sew, and sing what all admire,
Those happy songs sung by the village choir.
Behold the garden with its flowery store,
The white-stoned footpath leading to the door,
Where toils the hand that knows not yet to steal,
Where dwells the heart that must for others feel,
That must impart, ere Hunger passes by,
Whilst Pity wipes the tear from Sorrow’s eye.
Ye mighty potentates look down, and view
This little charming spot that’s ever new,
Where earthly love, and joy, and bliss are found,
And Nature scatters peace and beauty round;
Contentment smiles as Labour toddles home,
And laughing Mirth embracing bids him come.
And must these scenes so ripe with all that’s sweet,
The Daisy Nook, the peasant’s blest retreat,
The lowly cot which dots the flowery glade,
The garden in its rural pomp array’d, -
Must all be clothed in desolation’s gloom,
And seek with their poor occupants, the tomb?
Because the Yankee nation deals in blood,
And stops all commerce, ergo others should,
And must a nation tamper thus, when lo,
Thy children, Albion, feel starvation’s woe?
Wilt thou not show thy pity or thy power
In this distressing this o’erwhelming hour?
O lead thy sons to battle, or display
Thy greatness in a philanthropic way.
JOHN PARRY, Boatbuilder.
Bardsley, July 19th, 1862.

Title:A Briton's Appeal

Author:John Parry (Boatbuilder)

Publication:Ashton And Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:July 26th 1862

Keywords:domesticity, gender, morality, nationalism, politics, poverty, war


This is a fascinating, angry poem by a previously unknown poet, John Parry of Bardsley, who describes himself as a boat builder. Parry paints a bleak picture of the devastation wrought by the Cotton Famine, contrasting idyllic pastoral scenes of a happy labourer’s cottage with hunger, disease, and death. These scenes are deployed in an appeal for Britain to intervene in the American Civil War, in terms which express considerable anger against the “Yankee nation” which “deals in blood”. Though “Yankee” in this period did not refer specifically to the Union, Parry does appear ambivalent about, even scornful of, the emancipatory aims of the North, urging Britain to “Brook not the insult of a slave’s own slave.” In spite of an apparent frustration with Britain’s inaction in the crisis, Parry refers to the nation in celebratory terms, lauding it as “protectoress of the free” and emphasising its reputation for military greatness. – RM

This poem is ambitious in its subject and its form. The choice of iambic pentameter in rhyming couplets is deliberate, adopting one of the two traditional epic forms in English poetry, heroic couplets (the other epic form is unrhymed iambic pentameter or ‘blank verse’). Where the ambition lies in this poem, apart from its relative length, its serious subject matter, and its formal, slightly archaic language (‘thy’, ‘bedamps’), is in its sentence structures. Many of its stanzas (the first, second, and fifth in particular) are composed of one long sentence made up of complex clauses, and this has the effect of creating tension in the reader and placing heavy emphasis on the concluding statements.- SR