George Crabbe Poems >>
The Borough. Letter XVI: Inhabitants Of The Alms-House. Benlow
SEE! yonder badgeman with that glowing face,
A meteor shining in this sober place!
Vast sums were paid, and many years were past,
Ere gems so rich around their radiance cast!
Such was the fiery front that Bardolph wore,
Guiding his master to the tavern door;
There first that meteor rose, and there alone,
In its due place, the rich effulgence shone:
But this strange fire the seat of peace invades
And shines portentous in these solemn shades.
Benbow, a boon companion, long approved
By jovial sets, and (as he thought) beloved,
Was judged as one to joy and friendship prone,
And deem'd injurious to himself alone:
Gen'rous and free, he paid but small regard
To trade, and fail'd; and some declared "'twas
These were his friends--his foes conceived the case
Of common kind; he sought and found disgrace:
The reasoning few, who neither scorn'd nor loved,
His feelings pitied and his faults reproved.
Benbow, the father, left possessions fair,
A worthy name and business to his heir;
Benbow, the son, those fair possessions sold,
And lost his credit, while he spent the gold:
He was a jovial trader: men enjoy'd
The night with him; his day was unemployed;
So when his credit and his cash were spent,
Here, by mistaken pity, he was sent;
Of late he came, with passions unsubdued,
And shared and cursed the hated solitude,
Where gloomy thoughts arise, where grievous cares
Known but in drink,--he found an easy friend,
Well pleased his worth and honour to commend:
And thus inform'd, the guardian of the trust
Heard the applause, and said the claim was just,
A worthy soul! unfitted for the strife,
Care, and contention of a busy life; -
Worthy, and why?--that o'er the midnight bowl
He made his friend the partner of his soul,
And any man his friend: --then thus in glee,
"I speak my mind, I love the truth," quoth he;
Till 'twas his fate that useful truth to find,
'Tis sometimes prudent not to speak the mind.
With wine inflated, man is all upblown,
And feels a power which he believes his own;
With fancy soaring to the skies, he thinks
His all the virtues all the while he drinks;
But when the gas from the balloon is gone,
When sober thoughts and serious cares come on,
Where then the worth that in himself he found?
Vanish'd--and he sank grov'lling on the ground.
Still some conceit will Benbow's mind inflate,
Poor as he is,--'tis pleasant to relate
The joys he once possess'd--it soothes his present
Seated with some gray beadsman, he regrets
His former feasting, though it swell'd his debts;
Topers once famed, his friends in earlier days,
Well he describes, and thinks description praise:
Each hero's worth with much delight he paints;
Martyrs they were, and he would make them saints.
"Alas! alas!" Old England now may say,
"My glory withers; it has had its day:
We're fallen on evil times; men read and think;
Our bold forefathers loved to fight and drink.
"Then lived the good 'Squire Asgill--what a change
Has death and fashion shown us at the Grange!
He bravely thought it best became his rank
That all his tenants and his tradesmen drank;
He was delighted from his favourite room
To see them 'cross the park go daily home
Praising aloud the liquor and the host,
And striving who should venerate him most.
"No pride had he, and there was difference small
Between the master's and the servant's hall:
And here or there the guests were welcome all.
Of Heaven's free gifts he took no special care,
He never quarrell'd for a simple hare;
But sought, by giving sport, a sportman's name,
Himself a poacher, though at other game:
He never planted nor inclosed--his trees
Grew, like himself, untroubled and at ease:
Bounds of all kinds he hated, and had felt
Chok'd and imprison'd in a modern belt,
Which some rare genius now has twined about
The good old house, to keep old neighbours out.
Along his valleys, in the evening-hours,
The borough-damsels stray'd to gather flowers,
Or by the brakes and brushwood of the park,
To take their pleasant rambles in the dark.
"Some prudes, of rigid kind, forbore to call
On the kind females--favourites at the hall;
But better nature saw, with much delight,
The different orders of mankind unite:
'Twas schooling pride to see the footman wait,
Smile on his sister and receive her plate.
"His worship ever was a churchman true,
He held in scorn the Methodistic crew;
'May God defend the Church, and save the King,'
He'd pray devoutly and divinely sing.
Admit that he the holy day would spend
As priests approved not, still he was a friend:
Much then I blame the preacher, as too nice,
To call such trifles by the name of vice;
Hinting, though gently and with cautious speech,
Of good example--'tis their trade to preach.
But still 'twas pity, when the worthy 'squire
Stuck to the church, what more could they require?
'Twas almost joining that fanatic crew,
To throw such morals at his honour's pew;
A weaker man, had he been so reviled,
Had left the place--he only swore and smiled.
"But think, ye rectors and ye curates, think,
Who are your friends, and at their frailties wink;
Conceive not--mounted on your Sunday-throne,
Your firebrands fall upon your foes alone;
They strike your patrons--and should all withdraw,
In whom your wisdoms may discern a flaw,
You would the flower of all your audience lose,
And spend your crackers on their empty pews.
"The father dead, the son has found a wife,
And lives a formal, proud, unsocial life; -
The lands are now inclosed; the tenants all,
Save at a rent-day, never see the hall;
No lass is suffer'd o'er the walks to come,
And if there's love, they have it all at home.
"Oh! could the ghost of our good 'squire arise,
And see such change; would it believe its eyes?
Would it not glide about from place to place,
And mourn the manners of a feebler race?
At that long table, where the servants found
Mirth and abundance while the year went round;
Where a huge pollard on the winter-fire,
At a huge distance made them all retire;
Where not a measure in the room was kept,
And but one rule--they tippled till they slept -
There would it see a pale old hag preside,
A thing made up of stinginess and pride;
Who carves the meat, as if the flesh could feel;
Careless whose flesh must miss the plenteous meal;
Here would the ghost a small coal-fire behold,
Not fit to keep one body from the cold;
Then would it flit to higher rooms, and stay
To view a dull, dress'd company at play;
All the old comfort, all the genial fare
For ever gone! how sternly would it stare:
And though it might not to their view appear,
'Twould cause among them lassitude and fear
Then wait to see--where he delight has seen -
The dire effect of fretfulness and spleen.
"Such were the worthies of these better days;
We had their blessings--they shall have our praise.
"Of Captain Dowling would you hear me speak?
I'd sit and sing his praises for a week:
He was a man, and man-like all his joy, -
I'm led to question was he ever boy?
Beef was his breakfast;--if from sea and salt,
It relish'd better with his wine of malt;
Then, till he dined, if walking in or out,
Whether the gravel teased him or the gout,
Though short in wind and flannell'd every limb,
He drank with all who had concerns with him:
Whatever trader, agent, merchant, came,
They found him ready, every hour the same;
Whatever liquors might between them pass,
He took them all, and never balk'd his glass:
Nay, with the seamen working in the ship,
At their request, he'd share the grog and flip.
But in the club-room was his chief delight,
And punch the favourite liquor of the night;
Man after man they from the trial shrank,
And Dowling ever was the last who drank:
Arrived at home, he, ere he sought his bed,
With pipe and brandy would compose his head,
Then half an hour was o'er the news beguiled,
When he retired as harmless as a child.
Set but aside the gravel and the gout.
And breathing short--his sand ran fairly out.
"At fifty-five we lost him--after that
Life grows insipid and its pleasures flat;
He had indulged in all that man can have,
He did not drop a dotard to his grave;
Still to the last, his feet upon the chair,
With rattling lungs now gone beyond repair;
When on each feature death had fix'd his stamp,
And not a doctor could the body vamp;
Still at the last, to his beloved bowl
He clung, and cheer'd the sadness of his soul;
For though a man may not have much to fear,
Yet death looks ugly when the view is near:
- 'I go,' he said, 'but still my friends shall say,
'Twas as a man--I did not sneak away;
An honest life with worthy souls I've spent, -
Come, fill my glass;' he took it and he went.
"Poor Dolly Murray!--I might live to see
My hundredth year, but no such lass as she.
Easy by nature, in her humour gay,
She chose her comforts, ratafia and play:
She loved the social game, the decent glass,
And was a jovial, friendly, laughing lass;
We sat not then at Whist demure and still,
But pass'd the pleasant hours at gay Quadrille:
Lame in her side, we plac'd her in her seat,
Her hands were free, she cared not for her feet;
As the game ended, came the glass around
(So was the loser cheer'd, the winner crown'd).
Mistress of secrets, both the young and old
In her confided--not a tale she told;
Love never made impression on her mind,
She held him weak, and all his captives blind;
She suffer'd no man her free soul to vex,
Free from the weakness of her gentle sex;
One with whom ours unmoved conversing sate,
In cool discussion or in free debate.
"Once in her chair we'd placed the good old
Where first she took her preparation-glass;
By lucky thought she'd been that day at prayers,
And long before had fix'd her small affairs,
So all was easy--on her cards she cast
A smiling look; I saw the thought that pass'd:
'A king,' she call'd--though conscious of her
'Do more,' I answer'd--'More,' she said, 'I will;'
And more she did--cards answer'd to her call,
She saw the mighty to her mightier fall:
'A vole! a vole!' she cried, ''tis fairly won,
My game is ended and my work is done;' -
This said, she gently, with a single sigh,
Died as one taught and practised how to die.
"Such were the dead-departed; I survive,
To breathe in pain among the dead-alive."
The bell then call'd these ancient men to pray,
"Again!" said Benbow,--"tolls it every day?
Where is the life I led?"--He sigh'd and walk'd his
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Based on Keywords: lassitude, crackers, wisdoms, indulged, tradesmen, unemployed, hinting, insipid, d-and, brushwood, vole