Tale Xx - Poem by George Crabbe
Than old George Fletcher, on the British coast
Dwelt not a seaman who had more to boast:
Kind, simple and sincere--he seldom spoke,
But sometimes sang and chorus'd--'Hearts of Oak:'
In dangers steady, with his lot content,
His days in labour and in love were spent.
He left a Son so like him, that the old
With joy exclaim'd, ''Tis Fletcher we behold;'
But to his Brother, when the kinsmen came
And view'd his form, they grudged the father's
George was a bold, intrepid, careless lad,
With just the failings that his father had;
Isaac was weak, attentive, slow, exact,
With just the virtues that his father lack'd.
George lived at sea: upon the land a guest -
He sought for recreation, not for rest;
While, far unlike, his brother's feebler form
Shrank from the cold, and shudder'd at the storm;
Still with the Seaman's to connect his trade,
The boy was bound where blocks and ropes were made.
George, strong and sturdy, had a tender mind,
And was to Isaac pitiful and kind;
A very father, till his art was gain'd,
And then a friend unwearied he remain'd;
He saw his brother was of spirit low,
His temper peevish, and his motions slow;
Not fit to bustle in a world, or make
Friends to his fortune for his merit's sake;
But the kind sailor could not boast the art
Of looking deeply in the human heart;
Else had he seen that this weak brother knew
What men to court--what objects to pursue;
That he to distant gain the way discern'd,
And none so crooked but his genius learn'd.
Isaac was poor, and this the brother felt;
He hired a house, and there the Landman dwelt,
Wrought at his trade, and had an easy home,
For there would George with cash and comforts come;
And when they parted, Isaac look'd around
Where other friends and helpers might be found.
He wish'd for some port-place, and one might
He wisely thought, if he should try for all;
He had a vote--and were it well applied,
Might have its worth--and he had views beside;
Old Burgess Steel was able to promote
An humble man who served him with a vote;
For Isaac felt not what some tempers feel,
But bow'd and bent the neck to Burgess Steel;
And great attention to a lady gave,
His ancient friend, a maiden spare and grave;
One whom the visage long and look demure
Of Isaac pleased--he seem'd sedate and pure;
And his soft heart conceived a gentle flame
For her who waited on this virtuous dame.
Not an outrageous love, a scorching fire,
But friendly liking and chastised desire;
And thus he waited, patient in delay,
In present favour and in fortune's way.
George then was coasting--war was yet delay'd,
And what he gain'd was to his brother paid;
Nor ask'd the Seaman what he saved or spent,
But took his grog, wrought hard, and was content;
Till war awaked the land, and George began
To think what part became a useful man:
'Press'd, I must go: why, then, 'tis better far
At once to enter like a British tar,
Than a brave captain and the foe to shun,
As if I fear'd the music of a gun.'
'Go not!' said Isaac--'you shall wear disguise.'
'What!' said the Seaman, 'clothe myself with lies!'
'Oh! but there's danger.'--'Danger in the fleet?
You cannot mean, good brother, of defeat;
And other dangers I at land must share -
So now adieu! and trust a brother's care.'
Isaac awhile demurr'd--but, in his heart,
So might he share, he was disposed to part:
The better mind will sometimes feel the pain
Of benefactions--favour is a chain;
But they the feeling scorn, and what they wish,
While beings form'd in coarser mould will hate
The helping hand they ought to venerate:
No wonder George should in this cause prevail,
With one contending who was glad to fail:
'Isaac, farewell! do wipe that doleful eye;
Crying we came, and groaning we may die;
Let us do something 'twixt the groan and cry:
And hear me, brother, whether pay or prize,
One half to thee I give and I devise;
Por thou hast oft occasion for the aid
Of learn'd physicians, and they will be paid;
Their wives and children men support at sea,
And thou, my lad, art wife and child to me:
Farewell! I go where hope and honour call,
Nor does it follow that who fights must fall,'
Isaac here made a poor attempt to speak,
And a huge tear moved slowly down his cheek;
Like Pluto's iron drop, hard sign of grace,
It slowly roll'd upon the rueful face,
Forced by the striving will alone its way to trace.
Years fled--war lasted--George at sea remain'd,
While the slow Landman still his profits gain'd:
An humble place was vacant--he besought
His patron's interest, and the office caught;
For still the Virgin was his faithful friend,
And one so sober could with truth commend,
Who of his own defects most humbly thought,
And their advice with zeal and reverence sought:
Whom thus the Mistress praised, the Maid approved,
And her he wedded whom he wisely loved.
No more he needs assistance--but, alas!
He fears the money will for liquor pass;
Or that the Seaman might to flatterers lend,
Or give support to some pretended friend:
Still he must write--he wrote, and he confess'd
That, till absolved, he should be sore distress'd;
But one so friendly would, he thought, forgive
The hasty deed--Heav'n knew how he should live;
'But you,' he added, 'as a man of sense,
Have well consider'd danger and expense:
I ran, alas! into the fatal snare,
And now for trouble must my mind prepare;
And how, with children, I shall pick my way
Through a hard world, is more than I can say:
Then change not, Brother, your more happy state,
Or on the hazard long deliberate.'
George answered gravely, 'It is right and fit,
In all our crosses, humbly to submit:
Your apprehensions are unwise, unjust;
Forbear repining, and expel distrust.'
He added, 'Marriage was the joy of life,'
And gave his service to his brother's wife;
Then vow'd to bear in all expense a part,
And thus concluded, 'Have a cheerful heart.'
Had the glad Isaac been his brother's guide,
In the same terms the Seaman had replied;
At such reproofs the crafty Landman smiled,
And softly said, 'This creature is a child.'
Twice had the gallant ship a capture made -
And when in port the happy crew were paid,
Home went the Sailor, with his pockets stored,
Ease to enjoy, and pleasure to afford;
His time was short, joy shone in every face,
Isaac half fainted in the fond embrace:
The wife resolved her honour'd guest to please,
The children clung upon their uncle's knees;
The grog went round, the neighbours drank his
And George exclaimed, 'Ah! what to this is wealth?
Better,' said he, 'to bear a loving heart,
Than roll in riches--but we now must part!'
All yet is still--but hark! the winds o'ersweep
The rising waves, and howl upon the deep;
Ships late becalm'd on mountain-billows ride -
So life is threaten'd and so man is tried.
Ill were the tidings that arrived from sea,
The worthy George must now a cripple be:
His leg was lopp'd; and though his heart was sound,
Though his brave captain was with glory crown'd,
Yet much it vex'd him to repose on shore,
An idle log, and be of use no more:
True, he was sure that Isaac would receive
All of his Brother that the foe might leave;
To whom the Seaman his design had sent,
Ere from the port the wounded hero went:
His wealth and expectations told, he 'knew
Wherein they fail'd, what Isaac's love would do;
That he the grog and cabin would supply,
Where George at anchor during life would lie.'
The Landman read--and, reading, grew distress'd:
'Could he resolve t'admit so poor a guest?
Better at Greenwich might the Sailor stay,
Unless his purse could for his comforts pay.'
So Isaac judged, and to his wife appealed,
But yet acknowledged it was best to yield:
'Perhaps his pension, with what sums remain
Due or unsquander'd, may the man maintain;
Refuse we must not.'--With a heavy sigh
The lady heard, and made her kind reply: -
'Nor would I wish it, Isaac, were we sure
How long this crazy building will endure;
Like an old house, that every day appears
About to fall, he may be propp'd for years;
For a few months, indeed, we might comply,
But these old batter'd fellows never die.'
The hand of Isaac, George on entering took,
With love and resignation in his look;
Declared his comfort in the fortune past,
And joy to find his anchor safely cast:
'Call then my nephews, let the grog be brought,
And I will tell them how the ship was fought.'
Alas! our simple Seaman should have known
That all the care, the kindness, he had shown,
Were from his Brother's heart, if not his memory,
All swept away, to be perceived no more,
Like idle structures on the sandy shore,
The chance amusement of the playful boy,
That the rude billows in their rage destroy.
Poor George confess'd, though loth the truth to
Slight was his knowledge of a Brother's mind:
The vulgar pipe was to the wife offence,
The frequent grog to Isaac an expense;
Would friends like hers, she question'd, 'choose to
Where clouds of poison'd fume defiled a room?
This could their Lady-friend, and Burgess Steel
(Teased with his worship's asthma), bear to feel?
Could they associate or converse with him -
A loud rough sailor with a timber limb?'
Cold as he grew, still Isaac strove to show,
By well-feign'd care, that cold he could not grow;
And when he saw his brother look distress'd,
He strove some petty comforts to suggest;
On his wife solely their neglect to lay,
And then t'excuse it, as a woman's way;
He too was chidden when her rules he broke,
And when she sicken'd at the scent of smoke.
George, though in doubt, was still consoled to
His Brother wishing to be reckoned kind:
That Isaac seem'd concern'd by his distress,
Gave to his injured feelings some redress;
But none he found disposed to lend an ear
To stories, all were once intent to hear:
Except his nephew, seated on his knee,
He found no creature cared about the sea;
But George indeed--for George they call'd the boy,
When his good uncle was their boast and joy -
Would listen long, and would contend with sleep,
To hear the woes and wonders of the deep;
Till the fond mother cried--'That man will teach
The foolish boy his rude and boisterous speech.'
So judged the father--and the boy was taught
To shun the uncle, whom his love had sought.
The mask of kindness now but seldom worn,
George felt each evil harder to be borne;
And cried (vexation growing day by day),
'Ah! brother Isaac! What! I'm in the way!'
'No! on my credit, look ye, No! but I
Am fond of peace, and my repose would buy
On any terms--in short, we must comply:
My spouse had money--she must have her will -
Ah! brother, marriage is a bitter pill.'
George tried the lady--'Sister, I offend.'
'Me?' she replied--'Oh no! you may depend
On my regard--but watch your brother's way,
Whom I, like you, must study and obey.'
'Ah!' thought the Seaman, 'what a head was mine,
That easy berth at Greenwich to resign!
I'll to the parish'--but a little pride,
And some affection, put the thought aside.
Now gross neglect and open scorn he bore
In silent sorrow--but he felt the more:
The odious pipe he to the kitchen took,
Or strove to profit by some pious book.
When the mind stoops to this degraded state,
New griefs will darken the dependant's fate;
'Brother!' said Isaac, 'you will sure excuse
The little freedom I'm compell'd to use:
My wife's relations--(curse the haughty crew!) -
Affect such niceness, and such dread of you:
You speak so loud--and they have natures soft -
Brother--I wish--do go upon the loft!'
Poor George obey'd, and to the garret fled,
Where not a being saw the tears he shed:
But more was yet required, for guests were come,
Who could not dine if he disgraced the room.
It shock'd his spirit to be esteem'd unfit
With an own brother and his wife to sit;
He grew rebellious--at the vestry spoke
For weekly aid--they heard it as a joke:
'So kind a brother, and so wealthy--you
Apply to us?--No! this will never do:
Good neighbour Fletcher,' said the Overseer,
'We are engaged--you can have nothing here!'
George mutter'd something in despairing tone,
Then sought his loft, to think and grieve alone;
Neglected, slighted, restless on his bed,
With heart half broken, and with scraps ill fed;
Yet was he pleased that hours for play design'd
Were given to ease his ever-troubled mind;
The child still listen'd with increasing joy,
And he was sooth'd by the attentive boy.
At length he sicken'd, and this duteous child
Watch'd o'er his sickness, and his pains beguiled;
The mother bade him from the loft refrain,
But, though with caution, yet he went again;
And now his tales the Sailor feebly told,
His heart was heavy, and his limbs were cold:
The tender boy came often to entreat
His good kind friend would of his presents eat;
Purloin'd or purchased, for he saw, with shame,
The food untouch'd that to his uncle came;
Who, sick in body and in mind, received
The boy's indulgence, gratified and grieved.
'Uncle will die!' said George: --the piteous
Exclaim'd, 'she saw no value in his life;
But, sick or well, to my commands attend,
And go no more to your complaining friend.'
The boy was vex'd, he felt his heart reprove
The stern decree.--What! punish'd for his love!
No! he would go, but softly, to the room,
Stealing in silence--for he knew his doom.
Once in a week the father came to say,
'George, are you ill?' and hurried him away;
Yet to his wife would on their duties dwell,
And often cry, 'Do use my brother well:'
And something kind, no question, Isaac meant,
Who took vast credit for the vague intent.
But, truly kind, the gentle boy essay'd
To cheer his uncle, firm, although afraid;
But now the father caught him at the door,
And, swearing--yes, the man in office swore,
And cried, 'Away! How! Brother, I'm surprised
That one so old can be so ill advised:
Let him not dare to visit you again,
Your cursed stories will disturb his brain;
Is it not vile to court a foolish boy,
Your own absurd narrations to enjoy?
What! sullen!--ha, George Fletcher! you shall see,
Proud as you are, your bread depends on me!'
He spoke, and, frowning, to his dinner went,
Then cool'd and felt some qualms of discontent:
And thought on times when he compell'd his son
To hear these stories, nay, to beg for one;
But the wife's wrath o'ercame the brother's pain,
And shame was felt, and conscience rose, in vain.
George yet stole up; he saw his Uncle lie
Sick on the bed, and heard his heavy sigh;
So he resolved, before he went to rest,
To comfort one so dear and so distressed;
Then watch'd his time, but, with a child-like art,
Betray'd a something treasured at his heart:
Th' observant wife remark'd, 'The boy is grown
So like your brother, that he seems his own:
So close and sullen! and I still suspect
They often meet: --do watch them and detect.'
George now remark'd that all was still as night,
And hasten'd up with terror and delight;
'Uncle!' he cried, and softly tapp'd the door,
Do let me in'--but he could add no more;
The careful father caught him in the fact,
And cried,--'You serpent! is it thus you act?
'Back to your mother!'--and, with hasty blow,
He sent th' indignant boy to grieve below;
Then at the door an angry speech began -
'Is this your conduct?--Is it thus you plan?
Seduce my child, and make my house a scene
Of vile dispute--What is it that you mean?
George, are you dumb? do learn to know your
And think a while on whom your bread depends.
What! not a word? be thankful I am cool -
But, sir, beware, nor longer play the fool.
Come! brother, come! what is it that you seek
By this rebellion?--Speak, you villain, speak!
Weeping! I warrant--sorrow makes you dumb:
I'll ope your mouth, impostor! if I come:
Let me approach--I'll shake you from the bed,
You stubborn dog--Oh God! my Brother's dead!'
Timid was Isaac, and in all the past
He felt a purpose to be kind at last:
Nor did he mean his brother to depart,
Till he had shown this kindness of his heart;
But day by day he put the cause aside,
Induced by av'rice, peevishness, or pride.
But now awaken'd, from this fatal time
His conscience Isaac felt, and found his crime:
He raised to George a monumental stone,
And there retired to sigh and think alone;
An ague seized him, he grew pale, and shook -
'So,' said his son, 'would my poor Uncle look.'
'And so, my child, shall I like him expire.'
'No! you have physic and a cheerful fire.'
'Unhappy sinner! yes, I'm well supplied
With every comfort my cold heart denied.'
He view'd his Brother now, but not as one
Who vex'd his wife by fondness for her son;
Not as with wooden limb, and seaman's tale,
The odious pipe, vile grog, or humbler ale:
He now the worth and grief alone can view
Of one so mild, so generous, and so true;
'The frank, kind Brother, with such open heart, -
And I to break it--'twas a demon's part!'
So Isaac now, as led by conscience, feels,
Nor his unkindness palliates or conceals;
'This is your folly,' said his heartless wife:
'Alas! my folly cost my Brother's life;
It suffer'd him to languish and decay -
My gentle Brother, whom I could not pay,
And therefore left to pine, and fret his life away
He takes his Son, and bids the boy unfold
All the good Uncle of his feelings told,
All he lamented--and the ready tear
Falls as he listens, soothed, and grieved to hear.
'Did he not curse me, child?'--'He never cursed,
But could not breathe, and said his heart would
'And so will mine:'--'Then, father, you must pray:
My uncle said it took his pains away.'
Repeating thus his sorrows, Isaac shows
That he, repenting, feels the debt he owes,
And from this source alone his every comfort flows.
He takes no joy in office, honours, gain;
They make him humble, nay, they give him pain:
'These from my heart,' he cries, 'all feeling
They made me cold to nature, dead to love.'
He takes no joy in home, but sighing, sees
A son in sorrow, and a wife at ease;
He takes no joy in office--see him now,
And Burgess Steel has but a passing bow;
Of one sad train of gloomy thoughts possess'd,
He takes no joy in friends, in food, in rest -
Dark are the evil days, and void of peace the best.
And thus he lives, if living be to sigh,
And from all comforts of the world to fly,
Without a hope in life--without a wish to die.
Comments about Tale Xx by George Crabbe
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