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Frank (Francis) Barber, a servant to Dr Samuel Johnson.

circa 1750
Here I am

 

Francis Barber was treated ‘with great tenderness’ by the recently widowed and childless Dr Johnson, who educated him and made him his residuary heir, calling him his ‘boy’.

 

 

Here I am, still serving, but different –

for I walk with measured gait, attending

learned gentlemen who are listening

to my master’s wisdom –

a black figure in the background.

I am Francis, Francis Barber,

though you will call me Frank.

 

Here I am, still serving, but different –

for Quashey was my childhood name

at Orange River, illiterate slave of Colonel Bathurst.

I was brought here, a boy of ten, and learned

to change, which I have done, to serve the learned Doctor

so he could breakfast in some splendour,

later to dine with learned friends.

 

Here I am, still serving, but different –

since the Colonel gave me my freedom

in his will, along with twelve whole pounds.

I served in an apothecary’s, and then the Navy

but came home to serve my dear old master,

with my wife and children.  When he dies

I’ll be there at his bedside.

 

Here I am, still serving, but different –

my son is named Samuel, my daughter Betsy –

his favourite. I am his heir and when I am old

I’ll spend my time in reading and fishing

and planting potatoes, for I am changed –

I am no longer a slave in Jamaica

but the boy of a Doctor, my most learned master.

 

 

© Richard Westcott

Picture 10010631, unattributed drawing, circa 1750

 

 

Richard Westcott (once upon a time a doctor) has had poems pop up in all sorts of places, won a prize here and there, and been listed, commended and highly commended in various competitions (including the Hippocrates, York Mix, Camden Lumen, Plough, and Poetry on the Lake).  He won the Poetry Society’s annual Stanza Competition in 2018, judged by Penelope Shuttle, with his poem ‘A Traditional Cure’.  A pamphlet, There they live much longer, was published by Indigo Dreams in March 2018, and his blog is at www.richardwestcottspoetry.com