minstrel and plantation stereotypes of later dialect verse. Several pieces hide a serious intent beneath a jolly surface. For example, "The Creditor to His Proud Debtor" ( HL) presents two messages under its lively ballad rhythms, taunting tone, and whimsical refrain: money is the root of all evil and neither a borrower nor a lender be. "The Tippler to His Bottle" ( PW) and "The Woodman and Money Hunter" ( PW) similarly moralize against drinking and money-hunting respectively, vices in which Horton indulged, but the lessons are sugar-coated with musical meters, easy rhymes, and "story" lines. Such poems disclose Horton grappling with temptation and need but artfully rising above them with folksy detail and self-deprecating humor. In other "folk" verses, Horton mourns two horses, one worked to death and one stolen; and "Troubled with the Itch" ( PW), surely his most physically painful confessions, uniquely describes a skin disease and stinking salve.
Horton's three volumes of poetry cover a wide range of subjects, presented in a variety of styles and voices. But the strongest voice is that of the slave who for sixty-eight years lived mainly in a white world whose culture he longed to share. All his life, Horton struggled for literacy to write poetry; he begged for manumission to write poetry; he earned modest freedom of movement and a livelihood by writing poetry; he published three volumes, and although all failed to bring him freedom or profit, it was this struggle to burst his chains and gain liberty, learning, and respect from the white community that galvanized Horton's art. At the end of his life he was pleased to be called "Poet."
Spelling and punctuation in the poems reproduced in this volume are Horton's. The material in brackets has been added by the editor.