George Crabbe

(24 December 1754 - 3 February 1832 / Aldeburgh, Suffulk)

Tale Xix - Poem by George Crabbe

THE CONVERT.

Some to our Hero have a hero's name
Denied, because no father's he could claim;
Nor could his mother with precision state
A full fair claim to her certificate;
On her own word the marriage must depend -
A point she was not eager to defend:
But who, without a father's name, can raise
His own so high, deserves the greater praise;
The less advantage to the strife he brought,
The greater wonders has his prowess wrought;
He who depends upon his wind and limbs,
Needs neither cork nor bladder when he swims;
Nor will by empty breath be puff'd along,
As not himself--but in his helpers--strong.
Suffice it then, our Hero's name was clear,
For call John Dighton, and he answer'd 'Here!'
But who that name in early life assign'd
He never found, he never tried to find:
Whether his kindred were to John disgrace,
Or John to them, is a disputed case;
His infant state owed nothing to their care -
His mind neglected, and his body bare;
All his success must on himself depend,
He had no money, counsel, guide, or friend;
But in a market-town an active boy
Appear'd, and sought in various ways employ;
Who soon, thus cast upon the world, began
To show the talents of a thriving man.
With spirit high John learn'd the world to

brave,
And in both senses was a ready knave;
Knave as of old obedient, keen, and quick,
Knave as of present, skill'd to shift and trick;
Some humble part of many trades he caught,
He for the builder and the painter wrought;
For serving-maids on secret errands ran,
The waiter's helper, and the ostler's man;
And when he chanced (oft chanced he) place to lose,
His varying genius shone in blacking shoes:
A midnight fisher by the pond he stood,
Assistant poacher, he o'erlook'd the wood;
At an election John's impartial mind
Was to no cause nor candidate confined;
To all in turn he full allegiance swore,
And in his hat the various badges bore:
His liberal soul with every sect agreed,
Unheard their reasons, he received their creed:
At church he deign'd the organ-pipes to fill,
And at the meeting sang both loud and shrill:
But the full purse these different merits gain'd,
By strong demands his lively passions drain'd;
Liquors he loved of each inflaming kind,
To midnight revels flew with ardent mind;
Too warm at cards, a losing game he play'd,
To fleecing beauty his attention paid;
His boiling passions were by oaths express'd,
And lies he made his profit and his jest.
Such was the boy, and such the man had been,
But fate or happier fortune changed the scene;
A fever seized him, 'He should surely die--'
He fear'd, and lo! a friend was praying by;
With terror moved, this Teacher he address'd,
And all the errors of his youth confess'd:
The good man kindly clear'd the Sinner's way
To lively hope, and counsell'd him to pray;
Who then resolved, should he from sickness rise,
To quit cards, liquors, poaching, oaths, and lies;
His health restored, he yet resolved and grew
True to his masters, to their Meeting true;
His old companions at his sober face
Laugh'd loud, while he, attesting it was grace,
With tears besought them all his calling to

embrace:
To his new friends such convert gave applause,
Life to their zeal, and glory to their cause:
Though terror wrought the mighty change, yet strong
Was the impression, and it lasted long;
John at the lectures due attendance paid,
A convert meek, obedient, and afraid;
His manners strict, though form'd on fear alone,
Pleased the grave friends, nor less his solemn

tone,
The lengthen'd face of care, the low and inward

groan;
The stern good men exulted when they saw
Those timid looks of penitence and awe;
Nor thought that one so passive, humble, meek,
Had yet a creed and principles to seek.
The Faith that Reason finds, confirms, avows,
The hopes, the views, the comforts she allows -
These were not his, who by his feelings found,
And by them only, that his faith was sound;
Feelings of terror these, for evil past,
Feelings of hope to be received at last;
Now weak, now lively, changing with the day -
These were his feelings, and he felt his way.
Sprung from such sources, will this faith remain
While these supporters can their strength retain?
As heaviest weights the deepest rivers pass,
While icy chains fast bind the solid mass;
So, born of feelings, faith remains secure,
Long as their firmness and their strength endure;
But when the waters in their channel glide,
A bridge must bear us o'er the threat'ning tide;
Such bridge is Reason, and there Faith relies,
Whether the varying spirits fall or rise.
His patrons, still disposed their aid to lend.
Behind a counter placed their humble friend,
Where pens and paper were on shelves display'd,
And pious pamphlets on the windows laid:
By nature active, and from vice restrain'd,
Increasing trade his bolder views sustain'd;
His friends and teachers, finding so much zeal
In that young convert whom they taught to feel,
His trade encouraged, and were pleased to find
A hand so ready, with such humble mind.
And now, his health restored, his spirits eased,
He wish'd to marry, if the teachers pleased.
They, not unwilling, from the virgin-class
Took him a comely and a courteous lass;
Simple and civil, loving and beloved,
She long a fond and faithful partner proved;
In every year the elders and the priest
Were duly summon'd to a christening feast;
Nor came a babe, but by his growing trade
John had provision for the coming made;
For friends and strangers all were pleased to deal
With one whose care was equal to his zeal.
In human friendships, it compels a sigh
To think what trifles will dissolve the tie.
John, now become a master of his trade,
Perceived how much improvement might be made;
And as this prospect open'd to his view,
A certain portion of his zeal withdrew;
His fear abated--'What had he to fear -
His profits certain, and his conscience clear?'
Above his door a board was placed by John,
And 'Dighton, Stationer,' was gilt thereon;
His window next, enlarged to twice the size,
Shone with such trinkets as the simple prize;
While in the shop with pious works were seen
The last new play, review, or magazine:
In orders punctual, he observed--'The books
He never read, and could he judge their looks?
Readers and critics should their merits try,
He had no office but to sell and buy;
Like other traders, profit was his care;
Of what they print, the authors must beware.'
He held his patrons and his teachers dear,
But with his trade they must not interfere.
'Twas certain now that John had lost the dread
And pious thoughts that once such terrors bred;
His habits varied, and he more inclined
To the vain world, which he had half resign'd;
He had moreover in his brethren seen,
Or he imagined, craft, conceit, and spleen:
'They are but men,' said John, 'and shall I then
Fear man's control, or stand in awe of men?
'Tis their advice (their Convert's rule and law),
And good it is--I will not stand in awe.'
Moreover Dighton, though he thought of books
As one who chiefly on the title looks,
Yet sometimes ponder'd o'er a page to find,
When vex'd with cares, amusement for his mind;
And by degrees that mind had treasured much
From works his teachers were afraid to touch:
Satiric novels, poets bold and free,
And what their writers term philosophy;
All these were read, and he began to feel
Some self-approval on his bosom steal.
Wisdom creates humility, but he
Who thus collects it will not humble be:
No longer John was fill'd with pure delight
And humble reverence in a pastor's sight;
Who, like a grateful zealot, listening stood,
To hear a man so friendly and so good;
But felt the dignity of one who made
Himself important by a thriving trade:
And growing pride in Dighton's mind was bred
By the strange food on which it coarsely fed.
Their Brother's fall the grieving Brethren heard

-
His pride indeed to all around appeared;
The world, his friends agreed, had won the soul
From its best hopes, the man from their control.
To make him humble, and confine his views
Within their bounds, and books which they peruse,
A deputation from these friends select
Might reason with him to some good effect;
Arm'd with authority, and led by love,
They might those follies from his mind remove.
Deciding thus, and with this kind intent,
A chosen body with its speaker went.
'John,' said the Teacher, 'John, with great

concern.
We see thy frailty, and thy fate discern -
Satan with toils thy simple soul beset,
And thou art careless slumbering in the net:
Unmindful art thou of thy early vow;
Who at the morning meeting sees thee now?
Who at the evening? 'Where is brother John?'
We ask;--are answer'd, 'To the tavern gone.'
Thee on the Sabbath seldom we behold;
Thou canst not sing, thou'rt nursing for a cold:
This from the churchmen thou hast learn'd, for they
Have colds and fevers on the Sabbath-day;
When in some snug warm room they sit, and pen
Bills from their ledgers--world-entangled men,
'See with what pride thou hast enlarged thy

shop;
To view thy tempting stores the heedless stop.
By what strange names dost thou these baubles know,
Which wantons wear, to make a sinful show?
Hast thou in view these idle volumes placed
To be the pander of a vicious taste?
What's here? a book of dances!--you advance
In goodly knowledge--John, wilt learn to dance?
How! 'Go,' it says, and 'to the devil go!
And shake thyself!' I tremble--but 'tis so;
Wretch as thou art, what answer canst thou make?
Oh! without question, thou wilt go and shake.
What's here? 'The School for Scandal'--pretty

schools!
Well, and art thou proficient in the rules?
Art thou a pupil? Is it thy design
To make our names contemptible as thine?
'Old Nick, a novel!' oh! 'tis mighty well -
A fool has courage when he laughs at hell;
'Frolic and Fun;' the Humours of Tim Grin;'
Why, John, thou grow'st facetious in thy sin;
And what?--'The Archdeacon's Charge!'--'tis mighty

well -
If Satan publish'd, thou wouldst doubtless sell:
Jests, novels, dances, and this precious stuff
To crown thy folly--we have seen enough;
We find thee fitted for each evil work:
Do print the Koran and become a Turk.
'John, thou art lost; success and worldly pride
O'er all thy thoughts and purposes preside,
Have bound thee fast, and drawn thee far aside:
Yet turn; these sin-traps from thy shop expel,
Repent and pray, and all may yet be well.
'And here thy wife, thy Dorothy behold,
How fashion's wanton robes her form infold!
Can grace, can goodness with such trappings dwell?
John, thou hast made thy wife a Jezebel:
See! on her bosom rests the sign of sin,
The glaring proof of naughty thoughts within:
What! 'tis a cross: come hither--as a friend,
Thus from thy neck the shameful badge I rend.'
'Rend, if you dare,' said Dighton; 'you shall

find
A man of spirit, though to peace inclined;
Call me ungrateful! have I not my pay
At all times ready for the expected day?
To share my plenteous board you deign to come,
Myself your pupil, and my house your home:
And shall the persons who my meat enjoy
Talk of my faults, and treat me as a boy?
Have you not told how Rome's insulting priests
Led their meek laymen like a herd of beasts;
And by their fleecing and their forgery made
Their holy calling an accursed trade?
Can you such acts and insolence condemn,
Who to your utmost power resemble them?
'Concerns it you what books I set for sale?
The tale perchance may be a virtuous tale;
And for the rest, 'tis neither wise nor just
In you, who read not, to condemn on trust;
Why should th' Archdeacon's Charge your spleen

excite?
He, or perchance th' Archbishop, may be right.
'That from your meetings I refrain is true:
I meet with nothing pleasant--nothing new;
But the same proofs, that not one text explain,
And the same lights, where all things dark remain;
I thought you saints on earth--but I have found
Some sins among you, and the best unsound:
You have your failings, like the crowds below,
And at your pleasure hot and cold can blow:
When I at first your grave deportment saw,
(I own my folly,) I was fill'd with awe;
You spoke so warmly, and it seem'd so well,
I should have thought it treason to rebel.
Is it a wonder that a man like me
Should such perfection in such teachers see -
Nay, should conceive you sent from Heaven to brave
The host of sin, and sinful souls to save?
But as our reason wakes, our prospects clear,
And failings, flaws, and blemishes appear.
'When you were mounted in your rostrum high,
We shrank beneath your tone, your frown, your eye:
Then you beheld us abject, fallen, low,
And felt your glory from our baseness grow;
Touch'd by your words, I trembled like the rest,
And my own vileness and your power confess'd:
These, I exclaim'd, are men divine, and gazed
On him who taught, delighted and amazed;
Glad when he finish'd, if by chance he cast
One look on such a sinner as he pass'd.
'But when I view'd you in a clearer light,
And saw the frail and carnal appetite;
When at his humble pray'r, you deign'd to eat,
Saints as you are, a civil sinner's meat;
When, as you sat contented and at ease,
Nibbling at leisure on the ducks and peas,
And, pleased some comforts in such place to find,
You could descend to be a little kind;
And gave us hope in heaven there might be room
For a few souls beside your own to come;
While this world's good engaged your carnal view,
And like a sinner you enjoy'd it too;
All this perceiving, can you think it strange
That change in you should work an equal change?'
'Wretch that thou art,' an elder cried, 'and

gone
For everlasting!'--'Go thyself,' said John;
Depart this instant, let me hear no more;
My house my castle is, and that my door.'
The hint they took, and from the door withdrew,
And John to meeting bade a long adieu;
Attached to business, he in time became
A wealthy man of no inferior name.
It seem'd, alas! in John's deluded sight,
That all was wrong because not all was right:
And when he found his teachers had their stains,
Resentment and not reason broke his chains:
Thus on his feelings he again relied,
And never look'd to reason for his guide:
Could he have wisely view'd the frailty shown,
And rightly weigh'd their wanderings and his own,
He might have known that men may be sincere,
Though gay and feasting on the savoury cheer;
That doctrines sound and sober they may teach,
Who love to eat with all the glee they preach;
Nay! who believe the duck, the grape, the pine,
Were not intended for the dog and swine:
But Dighton's hasty mind on every theme
Ran from the truth, and rested in th' extreme:
Flaws in his friends he found, and then withdrew
(Vain of his knowledge) from their virtues too,
Best of his books he loved the liberal kind
That, if they improve not, still enlarge the mind;
And found himself, with such advisers, free
From a fix'd creed, as mind enlarged could be.
His humble wife at these opinions sigh'd,
But her he never heeded till she died:
He then assented to a last request,
And by the meeting-window let her rest;
And on her stone the sacred text was seen,
Which had her comfort in departing been.
Dighton with joy beheld his trade advance,
Yet seldom published, loth to trust to chance:
Then wed a doctor's sister--poor indeed,
But skill'd in works her husband could not read;
Who, if he wish'd new ways of wealth to seek,
Could make her half-crown pamphlet in a week:
This he rejected, though without disdain.
And chose the old and certain way to gain.
Thus he proceeded: trade increased the while,
And fortune woo'd him with perpetual smile:
On early scenes he sometimes cast a thought,
When on his heart the mighty change was wrought;
And all the ease and comfort Converts find
Was magnified in his reflecting mind:
Then on the teacher's priestly pride he dwelt,
That caused his freedom, but with this he felt
The danger of the free--for since that day
No guide had shown, no brethren join'd his way;
Forsaking one, he found no second creed,
But reading doubted, doubting what to read.
Still, though reproof had brought some present

pain,
The gain he made was fair and honest gain;
He laid his wares indeed in public view,
But that all traders claim a right to do:
By means like these, he saw his wealth increase,
And felt his consequence, and dwelt in peace.
Our Hero's age was threescore years and five,
When he exclaim'd, 'Why longer should I strive?
Why more amass, who never must behold
A young John Dighton to make glad the old?'
(The sons he had to early graves were gone,
And girls were burdens to the mind of John.)
'Had I a boy, he would our name sustain,
That now to nothing must return again;
But what are all my profits, credit, trade,
And parish honours?--folly and parade.'
Thus Dighton thought, and in his looks appeared
Sadness, increased by much he saw and heard;
The Brethren often at the shop would stay,
And make their comments ere they walk'd away;
They mark'd the window, fill'd in every pane
With lawless prints of reputations slain;
Distorted forms of men with honours graced,
And our chief rulers in dirision placed:
Amazed they stood, remembering well the days
When to be humble was their brother's praise;
When at the dwelling of their friend they stopped;
To drop a word, or to receive it dropp'd;
Where they beheld the prints of men renown'd,
And far-famed preachers pasted all around,
(Such mouths! eyes! hair! so prim! so fierce! so

sleek!
They look'd as speaking what is woe to speak):
On these the passing brethren loved to dwell -
How long they spake! how strongly! warmly! well!
What power had each to dive in mysteries deep,
To warm the cold, to make the harden'd weep;
To lure, to fright, to soothe, to awe the soul,
And listening locks to lead and to control!
But now discoursing, as they linger'd near,
They tempted John (whom they accused) to hear
Their weighty charge--'And can the lost one feel,
As in the time of duty, love, and zeal;
When all were summon'd at the rising sun,
And he was ready with his friends to run;
When he, partaking with a chosen few,
Felt the great change, sensation rich and new?
No! all is lost; her favours Fortune shower'd
Upon the man, and he is overpower'd;
The world has won him with its tempting store
Of needless wealth, and that has made him poor:
Success undoes him; he has risen to fall,
Has gain'd a fortune, and has lost his all;
Gone back from Sion, he will find his age
Loth to commence a second pilgrimage;
He has retreated from the chosen track,
And now must ever bear the burden on his back.'
Hurt by such censure, John began to find
Fresh revolutions working in his mind;
He sought for comfort in his books, but read
Without a plan or method in his head;
What once amused, now rather made him sad;
What should inform, increased the doubts he had;
Shame would not let him seek at Church a guide,
And from his Meeting he was held by pride;
His wife derided fears she never felt,
And passing brethren daily censures dealt;
Hope for a son was now for ever past,
He was the first John Dighton and the last;
His stomach fail'd, his case the doctor knew,
But said, 'he still might hold a year or two.'
'No more!' he said; 'but why should I complain?
A life of doubt must be a life of pain:
Could I be sure--but why should I despair?
I'm sure my conduct has been just and fair;
In youth, indeed, I had a wicked will,
But I repented, and have sorrow still:
I had my comforts, and a growing trade
Gave greater pleasure than a fortune made;
And as I more possess'd, and reason'd more,
I lost those comforts I enjoy'd before,
When reverend guides I saw my table round,
And in my guardian guest my safety found:
Now sick and sad, no appetite, no ease,
Nor pleasures have I, nor a wish to please;
Nor views, nor hopes, nor plans, nor taste have I;
Yet, sick of life, have no desire to die.'
He said, and died: his trade, his name is gone,
And all that once gave consequence to John.
Unhappy Dighton! had he found a friend
When conscience told him it was time to mend -
A friend descreet, considerate, kind, sincere,
Who would have shown the grounds of hope and fear,
And proved that spirits, whether high or low,
No certain tokens of man's safety show -
Had Reason ruled him in her proper place,
And Virtue led him while he lean'd on grace -
Had he while zealous been discreet and pure,
His knowledge humble, and his hope secure; -
These guides had placed him on the solid rock,
Where Faith had rested, nor received a shock;
But his, alas! was placed upon the sand,
Where long it stood not, and where none can stand.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 16, 2010

Poem Edited: Friday, December 23, 2011


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