Biography of Thomas Pringle
Thomas Pringle was a Scottish writer, poet and abolitionist, known as the father of South African Poetry, being the first successful English language poet and author to describe South Africa's scenery, native peoples, and living conditions.
Born at Blaiklaw (now named Blakelaw), four miles south of Kelso in Roxburghshire, Thomas Pringle studied at Edinburgh University where he developed a talent for writing. Being lame, he did not follow his father into farming, but worked as a clerk and continued writing, soon succeeding to editorships of journals and newspapers. One of his poems celebrating his Scottish heritage came to the attention of the novelist Sir Walter Scott, by whose influence, whilst facing hard times and unable to earn a living, he secured free passage and a British Government resettlement offer of land in South Africa, to which he, with his father and brothers, emigrated in 1820. Being lame, he himself took to literary work in Cape Town rather than farming, opened a school with fellow Scotsman John Fairbairn, and conducted two newspapers, the South African Journal, and South African Commercial Advertiser. However, both papers became suppressed for their free criticisms of the Colonial Government, and his school closed.
Without a livelihood, and with debts, Thomas returned and settled in London. An anti-slavery article which he had written in South Africa before he left, was published in the "New Monthly Magazine", and brought him to the attention of Buxton, Zachary Macaulay and others, which led to his being appointed Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society. He began working for the Committee of the Anti-Slavery Society in March 1827, and continued for seven years. He offered work to Mary Prince, an escaped slave, enabling her to write her autobiography, which caused a sensation arising from failed libel actions and went into many editions. He also published African Sketches and books of poems, such as Ephemerides.
As Secretary to the Anti-Slavery Society he helped steer the organisation towards its eventual success; in 1834, with a widenting of the electoral franchise, the Reformed British Parliament passed legislation to bring an end to slavery in the British dominions - the aim of Pringle's Society. Pringle signed the Society's notice to set aside 1 August 1834 as a religious thanksgiving for the passing of the Act. However, the legislation did not came into effect until August 1838, and Thomas Pringle was unable to witness this moment; he had died from tuberculosis in December 1834 at the age of 45.
In his memory, Josiah Conder's Biographical Sketch of the Late Thomas Pringle (1835) was published, sold bound together with Thomas Pringle's own Narrative of a Residence in South Africa (1834). His remains were interred in Bunhill Fields, where he was commemorated with a memorial stone bearing an elegant inscription by William Kennedy.
Thomas Pringle's Works:
Pringle, Thomas (1834;1986 reprint) Narrative of A Residence in South Africa 2 vols. Brentwood: Doppler Press
Meihuizen, Nicholas (2007) Ordering Empire: The Poetry of Camões, Pringle and Campbell. Oxford: Peter Lang
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Thomas Pringle Poems
Afar in the Desert
Afar in the Desert I love to ride, With the silent Bush-boy alone by my side: When the sorrows of life the soul o'ercast, And, sick of the Present, I cling to the Past;
Song of the Wild Bushman
Let the proud White Man boast his flocks, And fields of foodful grain; My home is 'mid the mountain rocks, The Desert my domain.
Wake! Amakósa, wake! And arm yourselves for war. As coming winds the forest shake, I hear a sound from far:
The Bechuana Boy
I sat at noontide in my tent, And looked across the Desert dun, Beneath the cloudless firmament Far gleaming in the sun,
The free-born Kosa still doth hold The fields his fathers held of old; With club and spear, in jocund ranks, Still hunts the elk by Chumi's banks:
Lo! where he crouches by the cleugh's dark side, Eyeing the farmer's lowing herds afar; Impatient watching till the Evening Star Lead forth the Twilight dim, that he may glide
The Bushman sleeps within his black-browed den, In the lone wilderness. Around him lie His wife and little ones unfearingly -- For they are far away from 'Christian Men.'
The Caffer Commando
Hark! -- heard ye the signals of triumph afar? 'Tis our Caffer Commando returning from war: The voice of their laughter comes loud on the wind, Nor heed they the curses that follow behind.
To Sir Walter Scott
From deserts wild and many a pathless wood Of savage climes where I have wandered long, Whose hills and streams are yet ungraced by song, I bring, illustrious friend, this garland rude:
The Lion Hunt
Mount -- mount for the hunting -- with musket and spear! Call our friends to the field -- for the Lion is near! Call Arend and Ekhard and Groepe to the spoor; Call Muller and Coetzer and Lucas Van Vuur.
Mild, melancholy, and sedate, he stands, Tending another's flock upon the fields, His father's once, where now the White Man builds His home, and issues forth his proud commands.
The Slave Dealer
From ocean's wave a Wanderer came, With visage tanned and dun: His Mother, when he told his name, Scarce knew her long-lost son;
Fast by his wild resounding River The listless Coran lingers ever; Still drives his heifers forth to feed, Soothed by the gorrah's humming reed;
The Emigrant's Farewell
Our native land - our native vale - A long and last adieu! Farewell to bonny Teviotdale, And Cheviot mountains blue.
Lo! where he crouches by the cleugh's dark side,
Eyeing the farmer's lowing herds afar;
Impatient watching till the Evening Star
Lead forth the Twilight dim, that he may glide
Like panther to the prey. With freeborn pride
He scorns the herdsman, nor regards the scar
Of recent wound -- but burnishes for war
His assagai and targe of buffalo-hide.
He is a Robber? -- True; it is a strife