Tale Xvii - Poem by George Crabbe
Females there are of unsuspicious mind,
Easy and soft and credulous and kind;
Who, when offended for the twentieth time,
Will hear the offender and forgive the crime:
And there are others whom, like these to cheat,
Asks but the humblest efforts of deceit;
But they, once injured, feel a strong disdain,
And, seldom pardoning, never trust again;
Urged by religion, they forgive--but yet
Guard the warm heart, and never more forget:
Those are like wax--apply them to the fire,
Melting, they take th' impressions you desire;
Easy to mould and fashion as you please,
And again moulded with an equal ease:
Like smelted iron these the forms retain,
But once impress'd, will never melt again.
A busy port a serious Merchant made
His chosen place to recommence his trade;
And brought his Lady, who, their children dead,
Their native seat of recent sorrow fled:
The husband duly on the quay was seen,
The wife at home became at length serene;
There in short time the social couple grew
With all acquainted, friendly with a few;
When the good lady, by disease assail'd,
In vain resisted--hope and science fail'd:
Then spoke the female friends, by pity led,
'Poor merchant Paul! what think ye? will he wed?
A quiet, easy, kind, religious man,
Thus can he rest?--I wonder if he can.'
He too, as grief subsided in his mind,
Gave place to notions of congenial kind:
Grave was the man, as we have told before;
His years were forty--he might pass for more;
Composed his features were, his stature low,
His air important, and his motion slow:
His dress became him, it was neat and plain,
The colour purple, and without a stain;
His words were few, and special was his care
In simplest terms his purpose to declare;
A man more civil, sober, and discreet,
More grave and corteous, you could seldom meet:
Though frugal he, yet sumptuous was his board,
As if to prove how much he could afford;
For though reserved himself, he loved to see
His table plenteous, and his neighbours free:
Among these friends he sat in solemn style,
And rarely soften'd to a sober smile:
For this, observant friends their reason gave -
'Concerns so vast would make the idlest grave;
And for such man to be of language free,
Would seem incongruous as a singing tree:
Trees have their music, but the birds they shield -
The pleasing tribute for protection yield;
Each ample tree the tuneful choir defends,
As this rich merchant cheers his happy friends!'
In the same town it was his chance to meet
A gentle Lady, with a mind discreet;
Neither in life's decline, nor bloom of youth,
One famed for maiden modesty and truth:
By nature cool, in pious habits bred,
She look'd on lovers with a virgin's dread:
Deceivers, rakes, and libertines were they,
And harmless beauty their pursuit and prey;
As bad as giants in the ancient times
Were modern lovers, and the same their crimes:
Soon as she heard of her all-conquering charms,
At once she fled to her defensive arms;
Conn'd o'er the tales her maiden aunt had told,
And, statue like, was motionless and cold:
From prayer of love, like that Pygmalion pray'd,
Ere the hard stone became the yielding maid,
A different change in this chaste nymph ensued,
And turn'd to stone the breathing flesh and blood:
Whatever youth described his wounded heart,
'He came to rob her, and she scorn'd his art;
And who of raptures once presumed to speak,
Told listening maids he thought them fond and weak;
But should a worthy man his hopes display
In few plain words, and beg a yes or nay,
He would deserve an answer just and plain,
Since adulation only moved disdain -
Sir, if my friends object not, come again.'
Hence, our grave Lover, though he liked the
Praised not a feature--dwelt not on a grace;
But in the simplest terms declared his state:
'A widow'd man, who wish'd a virtuous mate;
Who fear'd neglect, and was compell'd to trust
Dependants wasteful, idle, or unjust;
Or should they not the trusted stores destroy,
At best, they could not help him to enjoy;
But with her person and her prudence bless'd,
His acts would prosper, and his soul have rest:
Would she be his?'--'Why, that was much to say;
She would consider; he awhile might stay:
She liked his manners, and believed his word;
He did not flatter, flattery she abhorr'd:
It was her happy lot in peace to dwell -
Would change make better what was now so well?
But she would ponder.' 'This,' he said, 'was
And begg'd to know 'when she had fix'd her mind.
Romantic maidens would have scorn'd the air,
And the cool prudence of a mind so fair;
But well it pleased this wiser maid to find
Her own mild virtues in her lover's mind.
His worldly wealth she sought, and quickly grew
Pleased with her search, and happy in the view
Of vessels freighted with abundant stores,
Of rooms whose treasures press'd the groaning
And he of clerks and servants could display
A little army on a public day:
Was this a man like needy bard to speak
Of balmy lip, bright eye, or rosy cheek?
The sum appointed for her widow'd state,
Fix'd by her friend, excited no debate;
Then the kind lady gave her hand and heart,
And, never finding, never dealt with art:
In his engagements she had no concern;
He taught her not, nor had she wish to learn;
On him in all occasions she relied,
His word her surety, and his worth her pride.
When ship was launch'd, and merchant Paul had
A bounteous feast became the lady's care;
Who then her entry to the dinner made,
In costly raiment, and with kind parade.
Call'd by this duty on a certain day,
And robed to grace it in a rich array,
Forth from her room, with measured step she came,
Proud of th' event, and stately look'd the dame;
The husband met her at his study door -
'This way, my love--one moment, and no more:
A trifling business--you will understand -
The law requires that you affix your hand;
But first attend, and you shall learn the cause
Why forms like these have been prescribed by laws.'
Then from his chair a man in black arose,
And with much quickness hurried off his prose -
That 'Ellen Paul, the wife, and so forth, freed
From all control, her own the act and deed,
And forasmuch'--said she, 'I've no distrust,
For he that asks it is discreet and just;
Our friends are waiting--where am I to sign? -
There?--Now be ready when we meet to dine.'
This said, she hurried off in great delight,
The ship was launch'd, and joyful was the night.
Now, says the reader, and in much disdain,
This serious Merchant was a rogue in grain;
A treacherous wretch, an artful sober knave,
And ten times worse for manners cool and grave:
And she devoid of sense, to set her hand
To scoundrel deeds she could not understand.
Alas! 'tis true; and I in vain had tried
To soften crime that cannot be denied;
And might have labour'd many a tedious verse
The latent cause of mischief to rehearse:
Be it confess'd, that long, with troubled look,
This Trader view'd a huge accompting-book;
(His former marriage for a time delay'd
The dreaded hour, the present lent its aid
But he too clearly saw the evil day,
And put the terror, by deceit, away;
Thus, by connecting with his sorrows crime,
He gain'd a portion of uneasy time. -
All this too late the injur'd Lady saw:
What law had given, again she gave to law;
His guilt, her folly--these at once impress'd
Their lasting feelings on her guileless breast.
'Shame I can bear,' she cried, 'and want
But will not see this guilty wretch again:'
For all was lost, and he with many a tear
Confess'd the fault--she turning scorn'd to hear.
To legal claims he yielded all his worth.
But small the portion, and the wrong'd were wroth,
Nor to their debtor would a part allow;
And where to live he know not--knew not how.
The Wife a cottage found, and thither went
The suppliant man, but she would not relent:
Thenceforth she utter'd with indignant tone,
'I feel the misery, and will feel alone.'
He would turn servant for her sake, would keep
The poorest school, the very streets would sweep,
To show his love. 'It was already shown,
And her affliction should be all her own:
His wants and weakness might have touch'd her
But from his meanness she resolved to part.'
In a small alley was she lodged, beside
Its humblest poor, and at the view she cried,
'Welcome! yes! let me welcome, if I can,
The fortune dealt me by this cruel man:
Welcome this low-thatch'd roof, this shatter'd
These walls of clay, this miserable floor;
Welcome my envied neighbours; this to you
Is all familiar--all to me is new:
You have no hatred to the loathsome meal,
Your firmer nerves no trembling terrors feel,
Nor, what you must expose, desire you to conceal;
What your coarse feelings bear without offence,
Disgusts my taste and poisons every sense:
Daily shall I your sad relations hear
Of wanton women and of men severe;
There will dire curses, dreadful oaths abound,
And vile expressions shock me and confound:
Noise of dull wheels, and songs with horrid words,
Will be the music that this lane affords;
Mirth that disgusts, and quarrels that degrade
The human mind, must my retreat invade:
Hard is my fate! yet easier to sustain,
Than to abide with guilt and fraud again;
A grave impostor! who expects to meet,
In such gray locks and gravity, deceit?
Where the sea rages and the billows roar,
Men know the danger, and they quit the shore;
But, be there nothing in the way descried,
When o'er the rocks smooth runs the wicked tide -
Sinking unwarn'd, they execrate the shock
And the dread peril of the sunken rock.'
A frowning world had now the man to dread,
Taught in no arts, to no profession bred;
Pining in grief, beset with constant care
Wandering he went, to rest he knew not where.
Meantime the Wife--but she abjured the name -
Endured her lot, and struggled with the shame;
When, lo! an uncle on the mother's side,
In nature something, as in blood allied,
Admired her firmness, his protection gave,
And show'd a kindness she disdain'd to crave.
Frugal and rich the man, and frugal grew
The sister-mind without a selfish view;
And further still--the temp'rate pair agreed
With what they saved the patient poor to feed:
His whole estate, when to the grave consign'd,
Left the good kinsman to the kindred mind;
Assured that law, with spell secure and tight,
Had fix'd it as her own peculiar right.
Now to her ancient residence removed,
She lived as widow, well endowed and loved;
Decent her table was, and to her door
Came daily welcomed the neglected poor:
The absent sick were soothed by her relief,
As her free bounty sought the haunts of grief;
A plain and homely charity had she,
And loved the objects of her alms to see;
With her own hands she dress'd the savoury meat,
With her own fingers wrote the choice receipt;
She heard all tales that injured wives relate,
And took a double interest in their fate;
But of all husbands not a wretch was known
So vile, so mean, so cruel as her own.
This bounteous Lady kept an active spy,
To search th' abodes of want, and to supply;
The gentle Susan served the liberal dame -
Unlike their notions, yet their deeds the same:
No practised villain could a victim find
Than this stern Lady more completely blind;
Nor (if detected in his fraud) could meet
One less disposed to pardon a deceit;
The wrong she treasured, and on no pretence
Received th' offender, or forgot th' offence:
But the kind Servant, to the thrice-proved knave
A fourth time listen'd and the past forgave.
First in her youth, when she was blithe and gay;
Came a smooth rogue, and stole her love away:
Then to another and another flew,
To boast the wanton mischief he could do:
Yet she forgave him, though so great her pain,
That she was never blithe or gay again.
Then came a spoiler, who, with villain-art
Implored her hand, and agonized her heart;
He seized her purse, in idle waste to spend
With a vile wanton, whom she call'd her friend;
Five years she suffer'd--he had revell'd five -
Then came to show her he was just alive;
Alone he came, his vile companion dead,
And he, a wand'ring pauper, wanting bread;
His body wasted, wither'd life and limb,
When this kind soul became a slave to him:
Nay, she was sure that, should he now survive,
No better husband would be left alive:
For him she mourn'd, and then, alone and poor,
Sought and found comfort at her Lady's door:
Ten years she served, and mercy her employ,
Her tasks were pleasure, and her duty joy.
Thus lived the Mistress and the Maid, design'd
Each other's aid--one cautious, and both kind:
Oft at their window, working, they would sigh
To see the aged and the sick go by;
Like wounded bees, that at their home arrive
Slowly and weak, but labouring for the hive.
The busy people of a mason's yard
The curious Lady view'd with much regard;
With steady motion she perceived them draw
Through blocks of stone the slowly-working saw;
It gave her pleasure and surprise to see
Among these men the signs of revelry:
Cold was the season, and confined their view,
Tedious their tasks, but merry were the crew;
There she beheld an aged pauper wait,
Patient and still, to take an humble freight;
Within the panniers on an ass he laid
The ponderous grit, and for the portion paid;
This he re-sold, and, with each trifling gift,
Made shift to live, and wretched was the shift.
Now will it be by every reader told
Who was this humble trader, poor and old. -
In vain an author would a name suppress,
From the least hint a reader learns to guess;
Of children lost, our novels sometimes treat,
We never care--assured again to meet:
In vain the writer for concealment tries,
We trace his purpose under all disguise;
Nay, though he tells us they are dead and gone,
Of whom we wot, they will appear anon;
Our favourites fight, are wounded, hopeless lie,
Survive they cannot--nay, they cannot die;
Now, as these tricks and stratagems are known,
'Tis best, at once, the simple truth to own.
This was the husband--in an humble shed
He nightly slept, and daily sought his bread:
Once for relief the weary man applied;
'Your wife is rich,' the angry vestry cried:
Alas! he dared not to his wife complain,
Feeling her wrongs, and fearing her disdain:
By various methods he had tried to live,
But not one effort would subsistence give:
He was an usher in a school, till noise
Made him less able than the weaker boys;
On messages he went, till he in vain
Strove names, or words, or meanings to retain;
Each small employment in each neighbouring town,
By turn he took, to lay as quickly down:
For, such his fate, he fail'd in all he plann'd,
And nothing prosper'd in his luckless hand.
At his old home, his motive half suppress'd,
He sought no more for riches, but for rest:
There lived the bounteous Wife, and at her gate
He saw in cheerful groups the needy wait;
'Had he a right with bolder hope t'apply?'
He ask'd--was answer'd, and went groaning by:
For some remains of spirit, temper, pride,
Forbade a prayer he knew would be denied.
Thus was the grieving man, with burthen'd ass,
Seen day by day along the street to pass:
'Who is he, Susan? who the poor old man?
He never calls--do make him, if you can.'
The conscious damsel still delay'd to speak,
She stopp'd confused, and had her words to seek;
From Susan's fears the fact her mistress knew,
And cried--'The wretch! what scheme has he in view?
Is this his lot?--but let him, let him feel -
Who wants the courage, not the will, to steal.'
A dreadful winter came, each day severe,
Misty when mild, and icy cold when clear;
And still the humble dealer took his load,
Returning slow, and shivering on the road:
The Lady, still relentless, saw him come,
And said--'I wonder, has the wretch a home?' -
'A hut! a hovel!' 'Then his fate appears
To suit his crime.'--'Yes, lady, not his years; -
No! nor his sufferings--nor that form decay'd.'
'Well! let the parish give its paupers aid:
You must the vileness of his acts allow.' -
'And you, dear lady, that he feels it now.'
'When such dissemblers on their deeds reflect,
Can they the pity they refused expect?
He that doth evil, evil shall he dread.' -
'The snow,' quoth Susan, 'falls upon his bed -
It blows beside the thatch--it melts upon his head
'Tis weakness, child, for grieving guilt to feel.'
'Yes, but he never sees a wholesome meal;
Through his bare dress appears his shrivell'd skin,
And ill he fares without, and worse within:
With that weak body, lame, diseased, and slow,
What cold, pain, peril, must the sufferer know!'
'Think on his crime.'--'Yes, sure 'twas very wrong;
But look (God bless him!) how he gropes along.'
'Brought me to shame.'--Oh! yes, I know it all -
What cutting blast! and he can scarcely crawl:
He freezes as he moves--he dies! if he should fall:
With cruel fierceness drives this icy sleet -
And must a Christian perish in the street,
In sight of Christians?--There! at last, he lies; -
Nor unsupported can he ever rise:
He cannot live.' 'But is he fit to die?' -
Here Susan softly mutter'd a reply,
Look'd round the room--said something of its state,
Dives the rich, and Lazarus at his gate;
And then aloud--'In pity do behold
The man affrighten'd, weeping, trembling, cold:
Oh! how those flakes of snow their entrance win
Through the poor rags, and keep the frost within.
His very heart seems frozen as he goes,
Leading that starved companion of his woes:
He tried to pray--his lips, I saw them move,
And he so turn'd his piteous looks above;
But the fierce wind the willing heart opposed,
And, ere he spoke, the lips in misery closed:
Poor suffering object! yes, for ease you pray'd,
And God will hear--He only, I'm afraid.'
'Peace! Susan, peace! pain ever follows sin.' -
'Ah! then,' thought Susan, 'when will ours begin?
When reach'd his home, to what a cheerless fire
And chilling bed will those cold limbs retire!
Yet ragged, wretched as it is, that bed
Takes half the space of his contracted shed;
I saw the thorns beside the narrow grate,
With straw collected in a putrid state:
There will he, kneeling, strive the fire to raise,
And that will warm him, rather than the blaze:
The sullen, smoky blaze, that cannot last
One moment after his attempt is past;
And I so warmly and so purely laid,
To sink to rest--indeed, I am afraid.'
'Know you his conduct?'--'Yes, indeed I know,
And how he wanders in the wind and snow;
Safe in our rooms the threat'ning storm we hear,
But he feels strongly what we faintly fear.'
'Wilful was rich, and he the storm defied;
Wilful is poor, and must the storm abide,'
Said the stern Lady; ''tis in vain to feel;
Go and prepare the chicken for our meal.'
Susan her task reluctantly began,
And utter'd as she went--'The poor old man!'
But while her soft and ever-yielding heart
Made strong protest against her lady's part,
The lady's self began to think it wrong
To feel so wrathful and resent so long.
'No more the wretch would she receive again,
No more behold him--but she would sustain;
Great his offence, and evil was his mind -
But he had suffer'd, and she would be kind:
She spurn'd such baseness, and she found within
A fair acquittal from so foul a sin;
Yet she too err'd, and must of Heaven expect
To be rejected, him should she reject.'
Susan was summon'd--'I'm about to do
A foolish act, in part seduced by you;
Go to the creature--say that I intend,
Foe to his sins, to be his sorrow's friend:
Take, for his present comforts, food and wine,
And mark his feelings at this act of mine:
Observe if shame be o'er his features spread,
By his own victim to be soothed and fed;
But, this inform him, that it is not love
That prompts my heart, that duties only move.
Say, that no merits in his favour plead,
But miseries only, and his abject need;
Nor bring me grov'ling thanks, nor high-flown
I would his spirits, not his fancy, raise:
Give him no hope that I shall ever more
A man so vile to my esteem restore;
But warn him rather, that, in time of rest,
His crimes be all remember'd and confess'd:
I know not all that form the sinner's debt,
But there is one that he must not forget.'
The mind of Susan prompted her with speed
To act her part in every courteous deed:
All that was kind she was prepared to say,
And keep the lecture for a future day;
When he had all life's comforts by his side,
Pity might sleep, and good advice be tried.
This done, the mistress felt disposed to look,
As self-approving, on a pious book;
Yet, to her native bias still inclined,
She felt her act too merciful and kind;
But when, long musing on the chilling scene
So lately past--the frost and sleet so keen -
The man's whole misery in a single view -
Yes! she could think some pity was his due.
Thus fix'd, she heard not her attendant glide
With soft slow step--till, standing by her side,
The trembling servant gasp'd for breath, and shed
Relieving tears, then utter'd, 'He is dead!'
'Dead!' said the startled Lady.--'Yes, he fell
Close at the door where he was wont to dwell;
There his sole friend, the Ass, was standing by,
Half dead himself, to see his Master die.'
'Expired he then, good Heaven! for want of
'No! crusts and water in a corner stood: -
To have this plenty, and to wait so long,
And to be right too late, is doubly wrong:
Then, every day to see him totter by,
And to forbear--Oh! what a heart had I!'
'Blame me not, child; I tremble at the news.'
'Tis my own heart,' said Susan, 'I accuse:
To have this money in my purse--to know
What grief was his, and what to grief we owe;
To see him often, always to conceive
How he must pine and languish, groan and grieve,
And every day in ease and peace to dine,
And rest in comfort!--What a heart is mine!'
Comments about Tale Xvii by George Crabbe
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