George Crabbe

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

Tale Xviii - Poem by George Crabbe

THE WAGER.

Counter and Clubb were men in trade, whose pains,
Credit, and prudence, brought them constant gains;
Partners and punctual, every friend agreed
Counter and Clubb were men who must succeed.
When they had fix'd some little time in life,
Each thought of taking to himself a wife:
As men in trade alike, as men in love,
They seem'd with no according views to move;
As certain ores in outward view the same,
They show'd their difference when the magnet came.
Counter was vain: with spirit strong and high,
'Twas not in him like suppliant swain to sigh:
'His wife might o'er his men and maids preside,
And in her province be a judge and guide;
But what he thought, or did, or wish'd to do,
She must not know, or censure if she knew;
At home, abroad, by day, by night, if he
On aught determined, so it was to be:
How is a man,' he ask'd, 'for business fit,
Who to a female can his will submit?
Absent a while, let no inquiring eye
Or plainer speech presume to question why:
But all be silent; and, when seen again,
Let all be cheerful--shall a wife complain?
Friends I invite, and who shall dare t'object,
Or look on them with coolness or neglect?
No! I must ever of my house be head,
And, thus obey'd, I condescend to wed.'
Clubb heard the speech--'My friend is nice, said

he;
A wife with less respect will do for me:
How is he certain such a prize to gain?
What he approves, a lass may learn to feign,
And so affect t'obey till she begins to reign;
A while complying, she may vary then,
And be as wives of more unwary men;
Beside, to him who plays such lordly part,
How shall a tender creature yield her heart;
Should he the promised confidence refuse,
She may another more confiding choose;
May show her anger, yet her purpose hide,
And wake his jealousy, and wound his pride.
In one so humbled, who can trace the friend?
I on an equal, not a slave, depend;
If true, my confidence is wisely placed,
And being false, she only is disgraced.'
Clubb, with these notions, cast his eye around;
And one so easy soon a partner found.
The lady chosen was of good repute;
Meekness she had not, and was seldom mute;
Though quick to anger, still she loved to smile,
And would be calm if men would wait a while:
She knew her duty, and she loved her way,
More pleased in truth to govern than obey;
She heard her priest with reverence, and her spouse
As one who felt the pressure of her vows;
Useful and civil, all her friends confess'd -
Give her her way, and she would choose the best;
Though some indeed a sly remark would make -
Give it her not, and she would choose to take.
All this, when Clubb some cheerful months had

spent,
He saw, confess'd, and said he was content.
Counter meantime selected, doubted, weigh'd,
And then brought home a young complying maid;
A tender creature, full of fears as charms,
A beauteous nursling from its mother's arms;
A soft, sweet blossom, such as men must love,
But to preserve must keep it in the stove:
She had a mild, subdued, expiring look -
Raise but the voice, and this fair creature shook;
Leave her alone, she felt a thousand fears -
Chide, and she melted into floods of tears;
Fondly she pleaded, and would gently sigh,
For very pity, or she knew not why;
One whom to govern none could be afraid -
Hold up the finger, this meek thing obey'd;
Her happy husband had the easiest task -
Say but his will, no question would she ask;
She sought no reasons, no affairs she knew,
Of business spoke not, and had nought to do.
Oft he exclaim'd, 'How meek! how mild! how kind!
With her 'twere cruel but to seem unkind;
Though ever silent when I take my leave,
It pains my heart to think how hers will grieve;
'Tis heaven on earth with such a wife to dwell,
I am in raptures to have sped so well;
But let me not, my friend, your envy raise,
No! on my life, your patience has my praise.'
His Friend, though silent, felt the scorn

implied -
'What need of patience?' to himself he cried:
'Better a woman o'er her house to rule,
Than a poor child just hurried from her school;
Who has no care, yet never lives at ease;
Unfit to rule, and indisposed to please.
What if he govern, there his boast should end;
No husband's power can make a slave his friend.'
It was the custom of these Friends to meet
With a few neighbours in a neighbouring street;
Where Counter ofttimes would occasion seize
To move his silent Friend by words like these:
'A man,' said he, 'if govern'd by his wife,
Gives up his rank and dignity in life;
Now, better fate befalls my Friend and me.' -
He spoke, and look'd th' approving smile to see.
The quiet partner, when he chose to speak,
Desired his friend 'another theme to seek;
When thus they met, he judged that state-affairs
And such important subjects should be theirs:'
But still the partner, in his lighter vein,
Would cause in Clubb affliction or disdain;
It made him anxious to detect the cause
Of all that boasting: --'Wants my friend applause?
This plainly proves him not at perfect ease,
For, felt he pleasure, he would wish to please.
These triumphs here for some regrets atone -
Men who are bless'd let other men alone.'
Thus made suspicious, he observed and saw
His friend each night at early hour withdraw;
He sometimes mention'd Juliet's tender nerves,
And what attention such a wife deserves:
'In this,' thought Clubb, 'full sure some mystery

lies -
He laughs at me, yet he with much complies,
And all his vaunts of bliss are proud apologies.'
With such ideas treasured in his breast,
He grew composed, and let his anger rest;
Till Counter once (when wine so long went round,
That friendship and discretion both were drown'd)
Began, in teasing and triumphant mood,
His evening banter: --'Of all earthly good,
The best,' he said, 'was an obedient spouse,
Such as my friend's--that every one allows:
What if she wishes his designs to know?
It is because she would her praise bestow;
What if she wills that he remain at home?
She knows that mischief may from travel come.
I, who am free to venture where I please,
Have no such kind preventing checks as these;
But mine is double duty, first to guide
Myself aright, then rule a house beside;
While this our friend, more happy than the free,
Resigns all power, and laughs at liberty.'
'By heaven!' said Clubb, 'excuse me if I swear,
I'll bet a hundred guineas, if he dare,
That uncontroll'd I will such freedoms take
That he will fear to equal--there's my stake.'
'A match!' said Counter, much by wine inflamed;
'But we are friends--let smaller stake be named:
Wine for our future meeting, that will I
Take and no more--what peril shall we try?'
'Let's to Newmarket,' Clubb replied; 'or choose
Yourself the place, and what you like to lose:
And he who first returns, or fears to go,
Forfeits his cash.'--Said Counter, 'Be it so.'
The friends around them saw with much delight
The social war, and hail'd the pleasant night;
Nor would they further hear the cause discuss'd,
Afraid the recreant heart of Clubb to trust.
Now sober thoughts return'd as each withdrew,
And of the subject took a serious view:
''Twas wrong,' thought Counter, 'and will grieve my

love;'
''Twas wrong,' thought Clubb, 'my wife will not

approve:
But friends were present; I must try the thing,
Or with my folly half the town will ring.'
He sought his lady--'Madam, I'm to blame,
But was reproach'd, and could not bear the shame;
Here in my folly--for 'tis best to say
The very truth--I've sworn to have my way;
To that Newmarket--(though I hate the place,
And have no taste or talents for a race,
Yet so it is--well, now prepare to chide) -
I laid a wager that I dared to ride:
And I must go: by heaven, if you resist
I shall be scorn'd, and ridiculed, and hiss'd;
Let me with grace before my friends appear,
You know the truth, and must not be severe:
He too must go, but that he will of course:
Do you consent?--I never think of force.'
'You never need,' the worthy Dame replied;
'The husband's honour is the woman's pride:
If I in trifles be the wilful wife,
Still for your credit I would lose my life.
Go! and when fix'd the day of your return,
Stay longer yet, and let the blockheads learn
That though a wife may sometimes wish to rule,
She would not make th' indulgent man a fool;
I would at times advise--but idle they
Who think th' assenting husband must obey.'
The happy man, who thought his lady right
In other cases, was assured to-night;
Then for the day with proud delight prepared,
To show his doubting friends how much he dared.
Counter--who grieving sought his bed, his rest
Broken by pictures of his love distress'd -
With soft and winning speech the fair prepared:
'She all his councils, comforts, pleasures shared:
She was assured he loved her from his soul,
She never knew and need not fear control;
But so it happen'd--he was grieved at heart
It happen'd so, that they awhile must part
A little time--the distance was but short,
And business called him--he despised the sport;
But to Newmarket he engaged to ride
With his friend Clubb:' and there he stopp'd and

sigh'd.
Awhile the tender creature look'd dismay'd,
Then floods of tears the call of grief obeyed: -
'She an objection! No!' she sobb'd, 'not one:
Her work was finish'd, and her race was run;
For die she must--indeed she would not live
A week alone, for all the world could give;
He too must die in that same wicked place;
It always happen'd--was a common case;
Among those horrid horses, jockeys, crowds,
'Twas certain death--they might bespeak their

shrouds.
He would attempt a race, be sure to fall -
And she expire with terror--that was all;
With love like hers she was indeed unfit
To bear such horrors, but she must submit.'
'But for three days, my love! three days at most,'
'Enough for me; I then shall be a ghost.'
'My honour's pledged!'--'Oh! yes, my dearest life,
I know your honour must outweigh your wife;
But ere this absence have you sought a friend?
I shall be dead--on whom can you depend?
Let me one favour of your kindness crave,
Grant me the stone I mention'd for my grave.'
'Nay, love, attend--why, bless my soul! I say
I will return--there, weep no longer, nay!'
'Well! I obey, and to the last am true,
But spirits fail me; I must die; adieu!'
'What, Madam! must?--'tis wrong--I'm angry--

zounds
Can I remain and lose a thousand pounds?'
'Go then, my love! it is a monstrous sum,
Worth twenty wives--go, love! and I am dumb;
Nor be displeased--had I the power to live,
You might be angry, now you must forgive:
Alas! I faint--ah! cruel--there's no need
Of wounds or fevers--this has done the deed.'
The lady fainted, and the husband sent
For every aid--for every comfort went;
Strong terror seized him: 'Oh! she loved so well,
And who th' effect of tenderness could tell?'
She now recover'd, and again began
With accent querulous--'Ah! cruel man!'
Till the sad husband, conscience-struck, confess'd,
'Twas very wicked with his friend to jest;
For now he saw that those who were obey'd,
Could like the most subservient feel afraid:
And though a wife might not dispute the will
Of her liege lord, she could prevent it still.
The morning came, and Clubb prepared to ride
With a smart boy, his servant, and his guide;
When, ere he mounted on his ready steed,
Arrived a letter, and he stopped to read.
'My friend,' he read, 'our journey I decline,
A heart too tender for such strife is mine;
Yours is the triumph, be you so inclined;
But you are too considerate and kind:
In tender pity to my Juliet's fears
I thus relent, o'ercome by love and tears;
She knows your kindness; I have heard her say,
A man like you 'tis pleasure to obey:
Each faithful wife, like ours, must disapprove
Such dangerous trifling with connubial love;
What has the idle world, my friend, to do
With our affairs? they envy me and you:
What if I could my gentle spouse command -
Is that a cause I should her tears withstand?
And what if you, a friend of peace, submit
To one you love--is that a theme for wit?
'Twas wrong, and I shall henceforth judge it weak
Both of submission and control to speak:
Be it agreed that all contention cease,
And no such follies vex our future peace;
Let each keep guard against domestic strife,
And find nor slave nor tyrant in his wife.'
'Agreed,' said Clubb, 'with all my soul agreed;'

-
And to the boy, delighted, gave his steed.
'I think my friend has well his mind express'd,
And I assent; such things are not a jest.'
'True,' said the Wife, 'no longer he can hide
The truth that pains him by his wounded pride:
Your friend has found it not an easy thing,
Beneath his yoke this yielding soul to bring:
These weeping willows, though they seem inclined
By every breeze, yet not the strongest wind
Can from their bent divert this weak but stubborn

kind;
Drooping they seek your pity to excite,
But 'tis at once their nature and delight;
Such women feel not; while they sigh and weep,
'Tis but their habit--their affections sleep;
They are like ice that in the hand we hold,
So very melting, yet so very cold;
On such affection let not man rely,
The husbands suffer, and the ladies sigh:
But your friend's offer let us kindly take,
And spare his pride for his vexation's sake;
For he has found, and through his life will find,
'Tis easiest dealing with the firmest mind -
More just when it resists, and, when it yields,

more kind.'


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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 16, 2010



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