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THE CONFINED DEBTOR.

A FRAGMENT FROM A PRISON.

"Sick and in prison,
And ye visited me."

This Poem hath been published, and the profits arising from the sale were appropriated towards the release of the debtors confined in the county gaol at Ilchester for small sums. The benevolent intentions of the author were fully rewarded by the success of the sale, and a list of the debtors discharged in consequence thereof was published in the daily papers.

Note by the Editor.
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The following Lines are offered to the Public, not as a Poem, but as a true, though faint, description of the miseries of a prison! Should they have the effect wished for of calling forth the attention of the charitable towards the release, or relief, of a number of most wretched debtors now confined in Ilchester gaol, the donations for them will be received and acknowledged in the papers by Mr. Gye and the Proprietors of the Circulating Libraries.

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THE CONFINED DEBTOR.

1 From these drear cells, where cheerless horror reigns,
2 Midst the dread sound of groans and clank of chains,
3 Where life is death, and day perpetual night,
4 Say! Shall a wretch like me presume to write?
5 A wretch cut off from ev'ry social tie,
6 Expell'd from life, yet not allow'd to die,
7 At once, from wife, from children torn away
8 By those, who make calamity their prey;
9 Who dart with more than tygers' savage rage
10 On pining sickness, or decrepid age:
11 Can such a wretch with trembling hand assay
12 His mansion and companions to portray,
13 And griefs proclaim which ne'er have met the day?
14 Griefs, which no tongue can speak, or pencil paint,
15 Which mock all sorrow, and make language faint,
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16 Bring scenes to light as Erebus profound,
17 Where murderers dire lie shackled to the ground,
18 And innocence and guilt alike are bound!
19 Yet could I to my sad companions gain
20 One ray of hope, 'twould mitigate my pain!
21 Oh were my lines in Heaven's own language drest,
22 Then would they pierce and rend each human breast,
23 Expand each heart, and make each eye o'erflow,
24 At these dread scenes of wretchedness and woe.
25 Yet tho' no poet's fire inspires my pen,
26 I write to Christians and I write to Men,
27 I write to those (if Heav'n direct it so)
28 Whose hearts dilate at every human woe,
29 To those whose charity with healing hand
30 Diffuses health and blessings o'er the land,
31 Who condescend to search the hidden cells,
32 Where pining want in silent anguish dwells,
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33 There, in obedience to their Lord divine,
34 They bind the wound, and pour in oil and wine!
35 What joys they feel, who follow such a guide!
36 Joys! which exceed all human worldly pride,
37 Joys! which e'en death itself cannot destroy,
38 For then they "enter on their Master's joy!"
39 Oh did the proud and selfish but believe
40 How far more blest to give, than to receive!
41 Did but the slaves of pomp and grandeur know
42 What streams of comfort from their wealth might flow!
43 Waters! as pure as morning dews, which rise
44 From lofty mountains till they reach the skies,
45 Descending thence, as tender drops of rain,
46 They cheer each valley, and each thirsty plain;
47 So when in gratitude the widow's pray'r,
48 The pris'ner's sighs reliev'd, the orphan's tear
49 To Heav'n ascend, an offering pure and neat,
50 A blest memorial and an odour sweet,
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51 Recorded stands, from thence they ten-fold pour
52 Their precious ointment, as the grateful show'r!

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53 Ah me! what means that shriek, that horrid yell,
54 Those bitter oaths, which sink the soul to hell?
55 Say, lost companions, in this dread abode
56 Do ye ne'er think of an offended God?
57 Ne'er seek by pray'r, by penitence and sighs,
58 T' obtain that pardon, which the world denies?
59 Ah! sue for mercy with your latest breath,
60 And trembling ask for pardon after death.

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61 No, No, I'll curse not e'en that fatal morn,
62 Which saw me to this loathsome prison borne;
63 Snatch'd from my homely bed, where long I'd lain
64 Struggling with sickness, poverty and pain,
65 Yet still kind hope, (the wretch's latest friend)
66 Did frequent comfort with my sorrows blend;
67 For near my couch the partner of my care
68 Would anxious watch, and bid me not despair,
69 Whilst she with life and strength, by Heav'n supply'd,
70 Could yield that help, sickness to me deny'd,
71 Could by her distaff earn that homely bread,
72 By which our helpless children long were fed:
73 She bade me hope by industry set free,
74 No griping landlord need we dread to see,
75 She taught me to suppress the rising sigh,
76 And check'd the tear when starting from mine eye;
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77 She o'er my limbs her thread-worn garment spread,
78 And with her infants clothes sustain'd my head,
79 Whilst at my feet those infants playful smil'd,
80 And by their prattle oft my pains beguil'd!
81 Ah! helpless babes, ah! wretched, dearest wife!
82 More lov'd by me than liberty, or life,
83 No more thy soothing voice now charms mine ear,
84 And gently whispers that no danger's near,
85 No more my playful infants cheer my sight,
86 Here all is horror and perpetual night!
87 Hope can no longer now suppress my sighs,
88 Or check the tears when streaming from mine eyes.
89 Still, still I feel that pang, which rent my heart,
90 Still do I hear thy screams when forc'd apart,
91 Still view thy pallid face, all bath'd in tears,
92 My children's cries still vibrate in mine ears,
93 Still feel them cling around my trembling knees,
94 While on their helpless parent bailiffs seize,
95 Still, still I hear my wife, my children call
96 "Have patience, patience, and we'll pay thee all!"
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97 Remorseless creditor, thou'st done the deed!
98 Nor tears, nor prayers, nor innocence could plead!
99 Oh! had thine heart one spark of pity known,
100 To griefs like ours it had compassion shewn!
101 Come! see thy captive! view his wretched state,
102 And shew some mercy ere it be too late;
103 Think! will this noisome air, and clay-cold floor,
104 His feeble frame to strength and health restore?
105 Oh could he liberty and strength regain,
106 To pay thy debt he ev'ry nerve would strain!
107 Will grief and anguish aid the wretched wife
108 In earning food to save each infant's life?
109 Ah! rather will not frenzy and despair
110 Deprive those infants of a mother's care?
111 Methinks e'en now, within this dungeon foul,
112 I hear her vent her agony of soul.

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113 Yet let not thoughts like these distract my brain,
114 Thoughts, which heap woe on woe, and pain on pain;
115 No! rather let me, with imploring eye,
116 Look up to Him, who hears the pris'ner's sigh;
117 To Him, who calls the weary and oppress'd,
118 To come to Him for succour and for rest!
119 Who, tho' sorlorn and helpless here I lie,
120 Without one pitying friend or comfort nigh,
121 May cause some tender sympathizing heart
122 To soothe our sorrows, and relief impart,
123 Some heart, replete with love, to whom 'tis giv'n
124 Those bounties to dispense, which flow from Heaven!

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    Title (in Source Edition): THE CONFINED DEBTOR. A FRAGMENT FROM A PRISON.
    Themes:
    Genres: heroic couplet; complaint

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    Poems, &c. &c. by the Late Mrs. Mary Alcock [poems only]. London: Printed for C. Dilly, Poultry, 1799, pp. 61-70. vii,[25],183,[1]p. (ESTC T86344) (Page images digitized by University of California Libraries.)

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    The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

    Other works by Mary Alcock (née Cumberland)