Charles Lamb

10 February 1775 – 27 December 1834 / London

Conquest Of Prejudice

Unto a Yorkshire school was sent
A negro youth to learn to write,
And the first day young Juba went
All gazed on him as a rare sight.
But soon with altered looks askance
They view his sable face and form,
When they perceive the scornful glance
Of the head boy, young Henry Orme.
He in the school was first in fame:
Said he, 'It does to me appear
To be a great disgrace and shame
A black should be admitted here.'
His words were quickly whispered round,
And every boy now looks offended;
The master saw the change, and found
That Orme a mutiny intended.
Said he to Orme, 'This African
It seems is not by you approved;
I'll find a way, young Englishman,
To have this prejudice removed.
'Nearer acquaintance possibly
May make you tolerate his hue;
At least 'tis my intent to try
What a short month may chance to do.'
Young Orme and Juba then he led
Into a room, in which there were
For each of the two boys a bed,
A table, and a wicker chair.
He locked them in, secured the key,
That all access to them was stopt;
They from without can nothing see;
Their food is through a skylight dropt.
A month in this lone chamber Orme
Is sentenced during all that time
To view no other face or form
Than Juba's parched by Afric clime.
One word they neither of them spoke
The first three days of the first week;
On the fourth day the ice was broke;
Orme was the first that deigned to speak.
The dreary silence o'er, both glad
To hear of human voice the sound,
The negro and the English lad
Comfort in mutual converse found.
Of ships and seas and foreign coast
Juba can speak, for he has been
A voyager: and Orme can boast
He London's famous town has seen.
In eager talk they pass the day,
And borrow hours even from the night;
So pleasantly time passed away,
That they have lost their reckoning quite.
And when their master set them free,
They thought a week was sure remitted,
And thanked him that their liberty
Had been before the time permitted.
Now Orme and Juba are good friends;
The school, by Orme's example won,
Contend who most shall make amends
For former slights to Afric's son.
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