Tale Xxi - Poem by George Crabbe
The Learned Boy
An honest man was Farmer Jones, and true;
He did by all as all by him should do;
Grave, cautious, careful, fond of gain was he,
Yet famed for rustic hospitality:
Left with his children in a widow'd state,
The quiet man submitted to his fate;
Though prudent matrons waited for his call,
With cool forbearance he avoided all;
Though each profess'd a pure maternal joy,
By kind attention to his feeble boy;
And though a friendly Widow knew no rest,
Whilst neighbour Jones was lonely and distress'd;
Nay, though the maidens spoke in tender tone
Their hearts' concern to see him left alone,
Jones still persisted in that cheerless life,
As if 'twere sin to take a second wife.
Oh! 'tis a precious thing, when wives are dead,
To find such numbers who will serve instead;
And in whatever state a man be thrown,
'Tis that precisely they would wish their own;
Left the departed infants--then their joy
Is to sustain each lovely girl and boy:
Whatever calling his, whatever trade,
To that their chief attention has been paid;
His happy taste in all things they approve,
His friends they honour, and his food they love;
His wish for order, prudence in affairs,
An equal temper (thank their stars!), are theirs;
In fact, it seem'd to be a thing decreed,
And fix'd as fate, that marriage must succeed:
Yet some, like Jones, with stubborn hearts and
Can hear such claims and show them no regard.
Soon as our Farmer, like a general, found
By what strong foes he was encompass'd round,
Engage he dared not, and he could not fly,
But saw his hope in gentle parley lie;
With looks of kindness then, and trembling heart,
He met the foe, and art opposed to art.
Now spoke that foe insidious--gentle tones,
And gentle looks, assumed for Farmer Jones:
'Three girls,' the Widow cried, 'a lively three
To govern well--indeed it cannot be.'
'Yes,' he replied, 'it calls for pains and care:
But I must bear it.'--'Sir, you cannot bear;
Your son is weak, and asks a mother's eye:'
'That, my kind friend, a father's may supply.'
'Such growing griefs your very soul will tease;'
'To grieve another would not give me ease -
I have a mother,'--'She, poor ancient soul!
Can she the spirits of the young control?
Can she thy peace promote, partake thy care,
Procure thy comforts, and thy sorrows share?
Age is itself impatient, uncontroll'd:'
But wives like mothers must at length be old.'
Thou hast shrewd servants--they are evils sore?'
Yet a shrewd mistress might afflict me more.'
Wilt thou not be a weary, wailing man?'
Alas! and I must bear it as I can.'
Resisted thus, the Widow soon withdrew,
That in his pride the Hero might pursue;
And off his wonted guard, in some retreat
Find from a foe prepared entire defeat:
But he was prudent; for he knew in flight
These Parthian warriors turn again and fight;
He but at freedom, not at glory aim'd,
And only safety by his caution claim'd.
Thus, when a great and powerful state decrees
Upon a small one, in its love, to seize -
It vows in kindness, to protect, defend,
And be the fond ally, the faithful friend;
It therefore wills that humbler state to place
Its hopes of safety in a fond embrace;
Then must that humbler state its wisdom prove
By kind rejection of such pressing love;
Must dread such dangerous friendship to commence,
And stand collected in its own defence:
Our Farmer thus the proffer'd kindness fled,
And shunn'd the love that into bondage led.
The Widow failing, fresh besiegers came,
To share the fate of this retiring dame:
And each foresaw a thousand ills attend
The man that fled from so discreet a friend;
And pray'd, kind soul! that no event might make
The harden'd heart of Farmer Jones to ache.
But he still govern'd with resistless hand,
And where he could not guide he would command:
With steady view, in course direct he steer'd,
And his fair daughters loved him, though they
Each had her school, and as his wealth was known,
Each had in time a household of her own.
The Boy indeed was at the Grandam's side
Humour'd and train'd, her trouble and her pride:
Companions dear, with speech and spirits mild,
The childish widow and the vapourish child;
This nature prompts; minds uninform'd and weak
In such alliance ease and comfort seek:
Push'd by the levity of youth aside,
The cares of man, his humour, or his pride,
They feel, in their defenceless state, allied;
The child is pleased to meet regard from age,
The old are pleased e'en children to engage;
And all their wisdom, scorn'd by proud mankind,
They love to pour into the ductile mind,
By its own weakness into error led,
And by fond age with prejudices fed.
The Father, thankful for the good he had,
Yet saw with pain a whining, timid Lad;
Whom he instructing led through cultured fields,
To show what Man performs, what Nature yields:
But Stephen, listless, wander'd from the view,
From beasts he fled, for butterflies he flew,
And idly gazed about in search of something new.
The lambs indeed he loved, and wish'd to play
With things so mild, so harmless, and so gay;
Best pleased the weakest of the flock to see,
With whom he felt a sickly sympathy.
Meantime the Dame was anxious, day and night,
To guide the notions of her babe aright,
And on the favourite mind to throw her glimmering
Her Bible-stories she impress'd betimes,
And fill'd his head with hymns and holy rhymes;
On powers unseen, the good and ill, she dwelt,
And the poor Boy mysterious terrors felt;
From frightful dreams he waking sobb'd in dread,
Till the good lady came to guard his bed.
The Father wish'd such errors to correct,
But let them pass in duty and respect:
But more it grieved his worthy mind to see
That Stephen never would a farmer be:
In vain he tried the shiftless Lad to guide,
And yet 'twas time that something should be tried:
He at the village-school perchance might gain
All that such mind could gather and retain;
Yet the good Dame affirm'd her favourite child
Was apt and studious, though sedate and mild;
'That he on many a learned point could speak,
And that his body, not his mind, was weak.'
The Father doubted--but to school was sent
The timid Stephen, weeping as he went:
There the rude lads compell'd the child to fight,
And sent him bleeding to his home at night;
At this the Grandam more indulgent grew;
And bade her Darling 'shun the beastly crew,
Whom Satan ruled, and who were sure to lie
Howling in torments, when they came to die.'
This was such comfort, that in high disdain
He told their fate, and felt their blows again:
Yet if the Boy had not a hero's heart,
Within the school he play'd a better part;
He wrote a clean fine hand, and at his slate
With more success than many a hero sate;
He thought not much indeed--but what depends
On pains and care was at his fingers' ends.
This had his Father's praise, who now espied
A spark of merit, with a blaze of pride;
And though a farmer he would never make,
He might a pen with some advantage take;
And as a clerk that instrument employ,
So well adapted to a timid boy.
A London Cousin soon a place obtain'd,
Easy but humble--little could be gain'd:
The time arrived when youth and age must part,
Tears in each eye, and sorrow in each heart;
The careful Father bade his Son attend
To all his duties and obey his Friend;
To keep his church and there behave aright,
As one existing in his Maker's sight,
Till acts to habits led, and duty to delight.
'Then try, my boy, as quickly as you can,
T'assume the looks and spirit of a man;
I say, be honest, faithful, civil, true,
And this you may, and yet have courage too:
Heroic men, their country's boast and pride,
Have fear'd their God, and nothing fear'd beside;
While others daring, yet imbecile, fly
The power of man, and that of God defy:
Be manly, then, though mild, for, sure as fate,
Thou art, my Stephen, too effeminate;
Here, take my purse, and make a worthy use
('Tis fairly stock'd) of what it will produce:
And now my blessing, not as any charm
Or conjuration; but 'twill do no harm.'
Stephen, whose thoughts were wandering up and
Now charm'd with promised sights in London-town,
Now loth to leave his Grandam--lost the force,
The drift and tenor of this grave discourse;
But, in a general way, he understood
'Twas good advice, and meant, 'My son be good;'
And Stephen knew that all such precepts mean
That lads should read their Bible, and be clean.
The good old Lady, though in some distress,
Begg'd her dear Stephen would his grief suppress:
'Nay, dry those eyes, my child--and, first of all.
Hold fast thy faith, whatever may befall:'
Hear the best preacher, and preserve the text
For meditation till you hear the next;
Within your Bible night and morning look -
There is your duty, read no other book;
Be not in crowds, in broils, in riots seen,
And keep your conscience and your linen clean:
Be you a Joseph, and the time may be
When kings and rulers will be ruled by thee.'
'Nay,' said the Father--'Hush, my son!' replied
The Dame--'the Scriptures must not be denied.'
The Lad, still weeping, heard the wheels
And took his place within the evening coach,
With heart quite rent asunder: on one side
Was love, and grief, and fear, for scenes untried;
Wild beasts and wax-work fill'd the happier part
Of Stephen's varying and divided heart:
This he betray'd by sighs and questions strange,
Of famous shows, the Tower, and the Exchange.
Soon at his desk was placed the curious Boy,
Demure and silent at his new employ;
Yet as he could he much attention paid
To all around him, cautious and afraid;
On older Clerks his eager eyes were fix'd,
But Stephen never in their council mix'd:
Much their contempt he fear'd, for if like them,
He felt assured he should himself contemn;
'Oh! they were all so eloquent, so free,
No! he was nothing--nothing could he be:
They dress so smartly, and so boldly look,
And talk as if they read it from a book;
But I,' said Stephen, 'will forbear to speak,
And they will think me prudent and not weak.
They talk, the instant they have dropp'd the pen,
Of singing-women and of acting-men:
Of plays and places where at night they walk
Beneath the lamps, and with the ladies talk;
While other ladies for their pleasure sing, -
Oh! 'tis a glorious and a happy thing:
They would despise me, did they understand
I dare not look upon a scene so grand;
Or see the plays when critics rise and roar,
And hiss and groan, and cry--Encore! encore!
There's one among them looks a little kind;
If more encouraged, I would ope my mind.'
Alas! poor Stephen, happier had he kept
His purpose secret, while his envy slept!
Virtue perhaps had conquer'd, or his shame
At least preserved him simple as he came.
A year elapsed before this Clerk began
To treat the rustic something like a man;
He then in trifling points the youth advised,
Talk'd of his coat, and had it modernized;
Or with the lad a Sunday-walk would take,
And kindly strive his passions to awake;
Meanwhile explaining all they heard and saw,
Till Stephen stood in wonderment and awe;
To a neat garden near the town they stray'd,
Where the Lad felt delighted and afraid;
There all he saw was smart, and fine, and fair -
He could but marvel how he ventured there:
Soon he observed, with terror and alarm,
His friend enlocked within a Lady's arm,
And freely talking--'But it is,' said he,
'A near relation, and that makes him free;'
And much amazed was Stephen when he knew
This was the first and only interview;
Nay, had that lovely arm by him been seized,
The lovely owner had been highly pleased.
'Alas!' he sigh'd, 'I never can contrive
At such bold, blessed freedoms to arrive;
Never shall I such happy courage boast,
I dare as soon encounter with a ghost.'
Now to a play the friendly couple went,
But the Boy murmurd at the money spent;
'He lov'd,' he said, 'to buy, but not to spend -
They only talk awhile, and there's an end.'
'Come, you shall purchase books,' the Friend
'You are bewilder'd, and you want a guide;
To me refer the choice, and you shall find
The light break in upon your stagnant mind!'
The cooler Clerks exclaim'd, 'In vain your art
To improve a cub without a head or heart;
Rustics, though coarse, and savages, though wild,
Our cares may render liberal and mild:
But what, my friend, can flow from all these pains?
There is no dealing with a lack of brains.'
'True I am hopeless to behold him man,
But let me make the booby what I can:
Though the rude stone no polish will display,
Yet you may strip the rugged coat away.'
Stephen beheld his books--'I love to know
How money goes--now here is that to show:
And now' he cried, 'I shall be pleased to get
Beyond the Bible--there I puzzle yet.'
He spoke abash'd--'Nay, nay!' the friend replied,
'You need not lay the good old book aside;
Antique and curious, I myself indeed
Read it at times, but as a man should read;.
A fine old work it is, and I protest
I hate to hear it treated as a jest:
The book has wisdom in it, if you look
Wisely upon it, as another book:
For superstition (as our priests of sin
Are pleased to tell us) makes us blind within;
Of this hereafter--we will now select
Some works to please you, others to direct;
Tales and romances shall your fancy feed,
And reasoners form your morals and your creed.'
The books were view'd, the price was fairly
And Stephen read undaunted, undismay'd:
But not till first he papered all the row,
And placed in order to enjoy the show:
Next letter'd all the backs with care and speed,
Set them in ranks, and then began to read.
The love of Order--I the thing receive
From reverend men, and I in part believe -
Shows a clear mind and clean, and whoso needs
This love, but seldom in the world succeeds;
And yet with this some other love must be,
Ere I can fully to the fact agree;
Valour and study may by order gain,
By order sovereigns hold more steady reign;
Through all the tribes of nature order runs,
And rules around in systems and in suns:
Still has the love of order found a place,
With all that's low, degrading, mean, and base,
With all that merits scorn, and all that meets
In the cold miser, of all change afraid;
In pompous men in public seats obey'd;
In humble placemen, heralds, solemn drones,
Fanciers of flowers, and lads like Stephen Jones:
Order to these is armour and defence,
And love of method serves in lack of sense.
For rustic youth could I a list produce
Of Stephen's books, how great might be the use!
But evil fate was theirs--survey'd, enjoy'd
Some happy months, and then by force destroyed:
So will'd the Fates--but these with patience read
Had vast effect on Stephen's heart and head.
This soon appear'd: within a single week
He oped his lips, and made attempt to speak;
He fail'd indeed--but still his Friend confess'd
The best have fail'd, and he had done his best:
The first of swimmers, when at first he swims,
Has little use or freedom in his limbs;
Nay, when at length he strikes with manly force,
The cramp may seize him, and impede his course.
Encouraged thus, our Clerk again essay'd
The daring act, though daunted and afraid:
Succeeding now, though partial his success,
And pertness mark'd his manner and address,
Yet such improvement issued from his books,
That all discern'd it in his speech and looks:
He ventured then on every theme to speak,
And felt no feverish tingling in his cheek;
His friend, approving, hail'd the happy change,
The Clerks exclaim'd--''Tis famous, and 'tis
Two years had pass'd; the Youth attended still
(Though thus accomplish'd) with a ready quill:
He sat th' allotted hours, though hard the case,
While timid prudence ruled in virtue's place;
By promise bound, the Son his letters penn'd
To his good parent at the quarter's end.
At first he sent those lines, the state to tell
Of his own health, and hoped his friends were well;
He kept their virtuous precepts in his mind,
And needed nothing--then his name was sign'd:
But now he wrote of Sunday-walks and views,
Of actors' names, choice novels, and strange news;
How coats were cut, and of his urgent need
For fresh supply, which he desired with speed.
The Father doubted, when these letters came,
To what they tended, yet was loth to blame:
'Stephen was once my duteous son, and now
My most obedient--this can I allow?
Can I with pleasure or with patience see
A boy at once so heartless and so free?'
But soon the kinsman heavy tidings told,
That love and prudence could no more withhold:
'Stephen, though steady at his desk, was grown
A rake and coxcomb--this he grieved to own;
His cousin left his church, and spent the day
Lounging about in quite a heathen way;
Sometimes he swore, but had indeed the grace
To show the shame imprinted on his face:
I search'd his room, and in his absence read
Books that I knew would turn a stronger head.
The works of atheists half the number made,
The rest were lives of harlots leaving trade;
Which neither man nor boy would deign to read,
If from the scandal and pollution freed:
I sometimes threaten'd, and would fairly state
My sense of things so vile and profligate;
But I'm a cit, such works are lost on me -
They're knowledge, and (good Lord!) philosophy.'
'Oh, send him down,' the Father soon replied;
Let me behold him, and my skill be tried:
If care and kindness lose their wonted use,
Some rougher medicine will the end produce.'
Stephen with grief and anger heard his doom -
'Go to the farmer? to the rustic's home?
Curse the base threat'ning--' 'Nay, child, never
Corrupted long, your case is growing worse.'
'I!' quoth the youth; 'I challenge all mankind
To find a fault; what fault have you to find?
Improve I not in manner, speech, and grace?
Inquire--my friends will tell it to your face;
Have I been taught to guard his kine and sheep?
A man like me has other things to keep;
This let him know.'--'It would his wrath excite:
But come, prepare, you must away to-night.'
'What! leave my studies, my improvements leave,
My faithful friends and intimates to grieve?'
'Go to your father, Stephen, let him see
All these improvements; they are lost on me.'
The Youth, though loth, obey'd, and soon he saw
The Farmer-father, with some signs of awe;
Who, kind, yet silent, waited to behold
How one would act, so daring, yet so cold:
And soon he found, between the friendly pair
That secrets pass'd which he was not to share;
But he resolved those secrets to obtain,
And quash rebellion in his lawful reign.
Stephen, though vain, was with his father mute;
He fear'd a crisis, and he shunn'd dispute;
And yet he long'd with youthful pride to show
He knew such things as farmers could not know;
These to the Grandam he with freedom spoke,
Saw her amazement, and enjoy'd the joke:
But on the father when he cast his eye,
Something he found that made his valour shy;
And thus there seem'd to be a hollow truce,
Still threat'ning something dismal to produce.
Ere this the Father at his leisure read
The son's choice volumes, and his wonder fled;
He saw how wrought the works of either kind
On so presuming, yet so weak a mind;
These in a chosen hour he made his prey,
Condemn'd, and bore with vengeful thoughts away;
Then in a close recess the couple near,
He sat unseen to see, unheard to hear.
There soon a trial for his patience came;
Beneath were placed the Youth and ancient Dame,
Each on a purpose fix'd--but neither thought
How near a foe, with power and vengeance fraught.
And now the matron told, as tidings sad,
What she had heard of her beloved lad;
How he to graceless, wicked men gave heed,
And wicked books would night and morning read;
Some former lectures she again began,
And begg'd attention of her little man;
She brought, with many a pious boast, in view
His former studies, and condemn'd the new:
Once he the names of saints and patriarchs old,
Judges and kings, and chiefs and prophets, told;
Then he in winter-nights the Bible took,
To count how often in the sacred book
The sacred name appear'd, and could rehearse
Which were the middle chapter, word, and verse,
The very letter in the middle placed,
And so employ'd the hours that others waste.
'Such wert thou once; and now, my child, they say
Thy faith like water runneth fast away,
The prince of devils hath, I fear, beguiled
The ready wit of my backsliding child.'
On this, with lofty looks, our Clerk began
His grave rebuke, as he assumed the man. -
'There is no devil,' said the hopeful youth,
'Nor prince of devils: that I know for truth.
Have I not told you how my books describe
The arts of priests, and all the canting tribe?
Your Bible mentions Egypt, where it seems
Was Joseph found when Pharoah dream'd his dreams:
Now in that place, in some bewilder'd head,
(The learned write) religious dreams were bred;
Whence through the earth, with various forms
They came to frighten and afflict mankind,
Prone (so I read) to let a priest invade
Their souls with awe, and by his craft be made
Slave to his will, and profit to his trade:
So say my books, and how the rogues agreed
To blind the victims, to defraud and lead;
When joys above to ready dupes were sold,
And hell was threaten'd to the shy and cold.
'Why so amazed, and so prepared to pray?
As if a Being heard a word we say:
This may surprise you; I myself began
To feel disturb'd, and to my Bible ran:
I now am wiser--yet agree in this,
The book has things that are not much amiss;
It is a fine old work, and I protest
I hate to hear it treated as a jest:
The book has wisdom in it, if you look
Wisely upon it as another book.'
'Oh! wicked! wicked! my unhappy child,
How hast thou been by evil men beguiled!'
'How! wicked, say you? You can little guess
The gain of that which you call wickedness;
Why, sins you think it sinful but to name
Have gain'd both wives and widows wealth and fame;
And this because such people never dread
Those threaten'd pains; hell comes not in their
Love is our nature, wealth we all desire,
And what we wish 'tis lawful to acquire;
So say my books--and what beside they show
'Tis time to let this honest Farmer know.
Nay, look not grave: am I commanded down
To feed his cattle and become his clown?
Is such his purpose? Then he shall be told
The vulgar insult--Hold, in mercy hold! -
Father, oh! father! throw the whip away;
I was but jesting; on my knees I pray -
There, hold his arm--oh! leave us not alone:
In pity cease, and I will yet atone
For all my sin'--In vain; stroke after stroke,
On side and shoulder, quick as mill-wheels broke;
Quick as the patient's pulse, who trembling cried,
And still the parent with a stroke replied;
Till all the medicine he prepared was dealt,
And every bone the precious influence felt;
Till all the panting flesh was red and raw,
And every thought was turn'd to fear and awe;
Till every doubt to due respect gave place. -
Such cures are done when doctors know the case.
'Oh! I shall die--my father! do receive
My dying words; indeed I do believe.
The books are lying books, I know it well;
There is a devil, oh! there is a hell;
And I'm a sinner: spare me, I am young,
My sinful words were only on my tongue;
My heart consented not; 'tis all a lie:
Oh! spare me then, I'm not prepared to die.'
'Vain, worthless, stupid wretch!' the Father
'Dost thou presume to teach? art thou a guide?
Driveller and dog, it gives the mind distress
To hear thy thoughts in their religious dress;
Thy pious folly moved my strong disdain,
Yet I forgave thee for thy want of brain;
But Job in patience must the man exceed
Who could endure thee in thy present creed.
Is it for thee, thou idiot, to pretend
The wicked cause a helping hand to lend?
Canst thou a judge in any question be?
Atheists themselves would scorn a friend like thee.
'Lo! yonder blaze thy worthies; in one heap
Thy scoundrel favourites must for ever sleep:
Each yields its poison to the flame in turn,
Where whores and infidels are doomed to burn;
Two noble faggots made the flame you see,
Reserving only two fair twigs for thee;
That in thy view the instruments may stand,
And be in future ready for my hand:
The just mementos that, though silent, show
Whence thy correction and improvements flow;
Beholding these, thou wilt confess their power,
And feel the shame of this important hour.
'Hadst thou been humble, I had first design'd
By care from folly to have freed thy mind;
And when a clean foundation had been laid,
Our priest, more able, would have lent his aid:
But thou art weak, and force must folly guide;
And thou art vain, and pain must humble pride:
Teachers men honour, learners they allure;
But learners teaching, of contempt are sure;
Scorn is their certain meed, and smart their only
A time like this, a busy, bustling time,
Suits ill with writers, very ill with rhyme:
Unheard we sing, when party-rage runs strong,
And mightier madness checks the flowing song:
Or, should we force the peaceful Muse to wield
Her feeble arms amid the furious field,
Where party-pens a wordy war maintain,
Poor is her anger, and her friendship vain;
And oft the foes who feel her sting, combine,
Till serious vengeance pays an idle line:
For party-poets are like wasps, who dart
Death to themselves, and to their foes but smart.
Hard then our fate: if general themes we
Neglect awaits the song, and chills the Muse;
Or should we sing the subject of the day,
To-morrow's wonder puffs our praise away.
More blest the bards of that poetic time,
When all found readers who could find a rhyme;
Green grew the bays on every teeming head,
And Cibber was enthroned, and Settle read.
Sing, drooping Muse, the cause of thy decline;
Why reign no more the once-triumphant Nine?
Alas! new charms the wavering many gain,
And rival sheets the reader's eye detain;
A daily swarm, that banish every Muse,
Come flying forth, and mortals call them NEWS:
For these, unread, the noblest volumes lie;
For these, in sheets unsoil'd, the Muses die;
Unbought, unblest, the virgin copies wait
In vain for fame, and sink, unseen, to fate.
Since, then, the Town forsakes us for our foes,
The smoothest numbers for the harshest prose;
Let us, with generous scorn, the taste deride,
And sing our rivals with a rival's pride.
Ye gentle poets, who so oft complain
That foul neglect is all your labours gain;
That pity only checks your growing spite
To erring man, and prompts you still to write;
That your choice works on humble stalls are laid,
Or vainly grace the windows of the trade;
Be ye my friends, if friendship e'er can warm
Those rival bosoms whom the Muses charm;
Think of the common cause wherein we go,
Like gallant Greeks against the Trojan foe;
Nor let one peevish chief his leader blame,
Till, crown'd with conquest, we regain our fame;
And let us join our forces to subdue
This bold assuming but successful crew.
I sing of NEWS, and all those vapid sheets
The rattling hawker vends through gaping streets;
Whate'er their name, whate'er the time they fly,
Damp from the press, to charm the reader's eye:
For soon as Morning dawns with roseate hue,
The HERALD of the morn arises too;
POST after POST succeeds, and, all day long,
GAZETTES and LEDGERS swarm, a noisy throng.
When evening comes, she comes with all her train;
Of LEDGERS, CHRONICLES, and POSTS again.
Like bats, appearing when the sun goes down,
From holes obscure and corners of the town.
Of all these triflers, all like these, I write;
Oh! like my subject could my song delight,
The crowd at Lloyd's one poet's name should raise,
And all the Alley echo to his praise.
In shoals the hours their constant numbers
Like insects waking to th' advancing spring;
Which take their rise from grubs obscene that lie
In shallow pools, or thence ascend the sky:
Such are these base ephemeras, so born
To die before the next revolving morn.
Yet thus they differ: insect-tribes are lost
In the first visit of a winters frost;
While these remain, a base but constant breed,
Whose swarming sons their short-lived sires
No changing season makes their number less,
Nor Sunday shines a sabbath on the press!
Then lo! the sainted MONITOR is born,
Whose pious face some sacred texts adorn:
As artful sinners cloak the secret sin,
To veil with seeming grace the guile within;
So moral Essays on his front appear,
But all is carnal business in the rear;
The fresh-coin'd lie, the secret whisper'd last,
And all the gleanings of the six days past.
With these retired through half the Sabbath-day,
The London lounger yawns his hours away:
Not so, my little flock! your preacher fly,
Nor waste the time no worldly wealth can buy;
But let the decent maid and sober clown
Pray for these idlers of the sinful town:
This day, at least, on nobler themes bestow,
Nor give to WOODFALL, or the world below.
But, Sunday past, what numbers flourish then,
What wondrous labours of the press and pen;
Diurnal most, some thrice each week affords,
Some only once,--O avarice of words!
When thousand starving minds such manna seek,
To drop the precious food but once a week.
Endless it were to sing the powers of all,
Their names, their numbers; how they rise and fall:
Like baneful herbs the gazer's eye they seize,
Rush to the head, and poison where they please:
Like idle flies, a busy, buzzing train,
They drop their maggots in the trifler's brain:
That genia soil receives the fruitful store,
And there they grow, and breed a thousand more.
Now be their arts display'd, how first they
A cause and party, as the bard his Muse;
Inspired by these, with clamorous zeal they cry,
And through the town their dreams and omens fly;
So the Sibylline leaves were blown about,
Disjointed scraps of fate involved in doubt;
So idle dreams, the journals of the night,
Are right and wrong by turns, and mingle wrong with
Some champions for the rights that prop the crown,
Some sturdy patriots, sworn to pull them down;
Some neutral powers, with secret forces fraught,
Wishing for war, but willing to be bought:
While some to every side and party go,
Shift every friend, and join with every foe;
Like sturdy rogues in privateers, they strike
This side and that, the foes of both alike;
A traitor-crew, who thrive in troubled times,
Fear'd for their force, and courted for their
Chief to the prosperous side the numbers sail,
Fickle and false, they veer with every gale;
As birds that migrate from a freezing shore
In search of warmer climes, come skimming o'er,
Some bold adventurers first prepare to try
The doubtful sunshine of the distant sky;
But soon the growing Summer's certain sun
Wins more and more, till all at last are won:
So, on the early prospect of disgrace,
Fly in vast troops this apprehensive race;
Instinctive tribes! their failing food they dread,
And buy, with timely change, their future bread.
Such are our guides; how many a peaceful head,
Born to be still, have they to wrangling led!
How many an honest zealot stol'n from trade,
And factious tools of pious pastors made!
With clews like these they thread the maze of
These oracles explore, to learn our fate;
Pleased with the guides who can so well deceive,
Who cannot lie so fast as they believe.
Oft lend I, loth, to some sage friend an ear,
(For we who will not speak are doom'd to hear);
While he, bewilder'd, tells his anxious thought,
Infectious fear from tainted scribblers caught,
Or idiot hope; for each his mind assails,
As LLOYD'S court-light or STOCKDALE'S gloom
Yet stand I patient while but one declaims,
Or gives dull comments on the speech he maims:
But oh! ye Muses, keep your votary's feet
From tavern-haunts where politicians meet;
Where rector, doctor, and attorney pause,
First on each parish, then each public cause:
Indited roads, and rates that still increase;
The murmuring poor, who will not fast in peace;
Election zeal and friendship, since declined;
A tax commuted, or a tithe in kind;
The Dutch and Germans kindling into strife;
Dull port and poachers vile; the serious ills of
Here comes the neighbouring Justice, pleased to
His little club, and in the chair preside.
In private business his commands prevail,
On public themes his reasoning turns the scale;
Assenting silence soothes his happy ear,
And, in or out, his party triumphs here.
Nor here th' infectious rage for party stops,
But flits along from palaces to shops;
Our weekly journals o'er the land abound,
And spread their plague and influenzas round;
The village, too, the peaceful, pleasant plain,
Breeds the Whig farmer and the Tory swain;
Brookes' and St Alban's boasts not, but, instead,
Stares the Red Ram, and swings the Rodney's Head:-
Hither, with all a patriot's care, comes he
Who owns the little hut that makes him free;
Whose yearly forty shillings buy the smile
Of mightier men, and never waste the while;
Who feels his freehold's worth, and looks elate,
A little prop and pillar of the state.
Here he delights the weekly news to con,
And mingle comments as he blunders on;
To swallow all their varying authors teach,
To spell a title, and confound a speech:
Till with a muddled mind he quits the news,
And claims his nation's licence to abuse;
Then joins the cry, 'That all the courtly race
Are venal candidates for power and place;'
Yet feels some joy, amid the general vice,
That his own vote will bring its wonted price.
These are the ills the teeming Press supplies,
The pois'nous springs from learning's fountain
Not there the wise alone their entrance find,
Imparting useful light to mortals blind;
But, blind themselves, these erring guides hold out
Alluring lights to lead us far about;
Screen'd by such means, here Scandal whets her
Here Slander shoots unseen, whene'er she will;
Here Fraud and Falsehood labour to deceive,
And Folly aids them both, impatient to believe.
Such, sons of Britain! are the guides ye trust;
So wise their counsel, their reports so just!-
Yet, though we cannot call their morals pure,
Their judgment nice, or their decisions sure;
Merit they have to mightier works unknown,
A style, a manner, and a fate their own.
We, who for longer fame with labour strive,
Are pain'd to keep our sickly works alive;
Studious we toil, with patient care refine,
Nor let our love protect one languid line.
Severe ourselves, at last our works appear,
When, ah! we find our readers more severe;
For, after all our care and pains, how few
Acquire applause, or keep it if they do!
Not so these sheets, ordain'd to happier fate,
Praised through their day, and but that day their
Their careless authors only strive to join
As many words as make an even line;
As many lines as fill a row complete;
As many rows as furnish up a sheet:
From side to side, with ready types they run,
The measure's ended, and the work is done;
Oh, born with ease, how envied and how blest!
Your fate to-day and your to-morrow's rest,
To you all readers turn, and they can look
Pleased on a paper, who abhor a book;
Those who ne'er deign'd their Bible to peruse,
Would think it hard to be denied their News;
Sinners and saints, the wisest with the weak,
Here mingle tastes, and one amusement seek;
This, like the public inn, provides a treat,
Where each promiscuous guest sits down to eat;
And such this mental food, as we may call
Something to all men, and to some men all.
Next, in what rare production shall we trace
Such various subjects in so small a space?
As the first ship upon the waters bore
Incongruous kinds who never met before;
Or as some curious virtuoso joins
In one small room, moths, minerals, and coins,
Birds, beasts, and fishes; nor refuses place
To serpents, toads, and all the reptile race;
So here compress'd within a single sheet,
Great things and small, the mean and mighty meet.
'Tis this which makes all Europe's business known,
Yet here a private man may place his own:
And, where he reads of Lords and Commons, he
May tell their honours that he sells rappee.
Add next th' amusement which the motley page
Affords to either sex and every age:
Lo! where it comes before the cheerful fire,-
Damps from the press in smoky curls aspire
(As from the earth the sun exhales the dew),
Ere we can read the wonders that ensue:
Then eager every eye surveys the part
That brings its favourite subject to the heart;
Grave politicians look for facts alone,
And gravely add conjectures of their own:
The sprightly nymph, who never broke her rest
For tottering crowns or mighty lands oppress'd,
Finds broils and battles, but neglects them all
For songs and suits, a birth-day, or a ball:
The keen warm man o'erlooks each idle tale
For 'Monies wanted,' and 'Estates on Sale;'
While some with equal minds to all attend,
Pleased with each part, and grieved to find an end.
So charm the news; but we who, far from town,
Wait till the postman brings the packet down,
Once in the week, a vacant day behold,
And stay for tidings, till they're three days old:
That day arrives; no welcome post appears,
But the dull morn a sullen aspect wears:
We meet, but ah! without our wonted smile,
To talk of headaches, and complain of bile;
Sullen we ponder o'er a dull repast,
Nor feast the body while the mind must fast.
A master passion is the love of news,
Not music so commands, nor so the Muse:
Give poets claret, they grow idle soon;
Feed the musician and he's out of tune;
But the sick mind, of this disease possess'd,
Flies from all cure, and sickens when at rest.
Now sing, my Muse, what various parts compose
These rival sheets of politics and prose.
First, from each brother's hoard a part they
A mutual theft that never feared a law;
Whate'er they gain, to each man's portion fall,
And read it once, you read it through them all:
For this their runners ramble day and night,
To drag each lurking deed to open light;
For daily bread the dirty trade they ply,
Coin their fresh tales, and live upon the lie:
Like bees for honey, forth for news they spring,-
Industrious creatures! ever on the wing;
Home to their several cells they bear the store,
Cull'd of all kinds, then roam abroad for more.
No anxious virgin flies to 'fair Tweed-side;'
No injured husband mourns his faithless bride;
No duel dooms the fiery youth to bleed;
But through the town transpires each vent'rous
Should some fair frail one drive her prancing pair
Where rival peers contend to please the fair;
When, with new force, she aids her conquering eyes,
And beauty decks, with all that beauty buys:
Quickly we learn whose heart her influence feels,
Whose acres melt before her glowing wheels.
To these a thousand idle themes succeed,
Deeds of all kinds, and comments to each deed.
Here stocks, the state barometers, we view,
That rise or fall by causes known to few;
Promotion's ladder who goes up or down;
Who wed, or who seduced, amuse the town;
What new-born heir has made his father blest;
What heir exults, his father now at rest;
That ample list the Tyburn-herald gives,
And each known knave, who still for Tyburn lives.
So grows the work, and now the printer tries
His powers no more, but leans on his allies.
When lo! the advertising tribe succeed,
Pay to be read, yet find but few will read;
And chief th' illustrious race, whose drops and
Have patent powers to vanquish human ills:
These, with their cures, a constant aid remain,
To bless the pale composer's fertile brain;
Fertile it is, but still the noblest soil
Requires some pause, some intervals from toil;
And they at least a certain ease obtain
From Katterfelto's skill, and Graham's glowing
I too must aid, and pay to see my name
Hung in these dirty avenues to fame;
Nor pay in vain, if aught the Muse has seen,
And sung, could make these avenues more clean;
Could stop one slander ere it found its way,
And give to public scorn its helpless prey.
By the same aid, the Stage invites her friends,
And kindly tells the banquet she intends;
Thither from real life the many run,
With Siddons weep, or laugh with Abingdon;
Pleased in fictitious joy or grief, to see
The mimic passion with their own agree;
To steal a few enchanted hours away
From self, and drop the curtain on the day.
But who can steal from self that wretched wight
Whose darling work is tried some fatal night?
Most wretched man! when, bane to every bliss,
He hears the serpent-critic's rising hiss;
Then groans succeed; nor traitors on the wheel
Can feel like him, or have such pangs to feel.
Nor end they here: next day he reads his fall
In every paper; critics are they all:
He sees his branded name with wild affright,
And hears again the cat-calls of the night.
Such help the STAGE affords: a larger space
Is fill'd by PUFFS and all the puffing race.
Physic had once alone the lofty style,
The well-known boast, that ceased to raise a smile:
Now all the province of that tribe invade,
And we abound in quacks of every trade.
The simple barber, once an honest name,
Cervantes founded, Fielding raised his fame:
Barber no more--a gay perfumer comes,
On whose soft cheek his own cosmetic blooms;
Here he appears, each simple mind to move,
And advertises beauty, grace, and love.
'Come, faded belles, who would your youth renew,
And learn the wonders of Olympian dew;
Restore the roses that begin to faint,
Nor think celestial washes vulgar paint;
Your former features, airs, and arts assume,
Circassian virtues, with Circassian bloom.
Come, battered beaux, whose locks are turned to
And crop Discretion's lying badge away;
Read where they vend these smart engaging things,
These flaxen frontlets with elastic springs;
No female eye the fair deception sees,
Not Nature's self so natural as these.'
Such are their arts, but not confined to them,
The muse impartial most her sons condemn:
For they, degenerate! join the venal throng,
And puff a lazy Pegasus along:
More guilty these, by Nature less design'd
For little arts that suit the vulgar kind.
That barbers' boys, who would to trade advance,
Wish us to call them smart Friseurs from France:
That he who builds a chop-house, on his door
Paints 'The true old original Blue Boar!'-
These are the arts by which a thousand live,
Where Truth may smile, and Justice may forgive:-
But when, amidst this rabble rout, we find
A puffing poet to his honour blind;
Who slily drops quotations all about
Packet or post, and points their merit out;
Who advertises what reviewers say,
With sham editions every second day;
Who dares not trust his praises out of sight,
But hurries into fame with all his might;
Although the verse some transient praise obtains,
Contempt is all the anxious poet gains.
Now Puffs exhausted, Advertisements past,
Their Correspondents stand exposed at last;
These are a numerous tribe, to fame unknown,
Who for the public good forego their own;
Who volunteers in paper-war engage,
With double portion of their party's rage:
Such are the Bruti, Decii, who appear
Wooing the printer for admission here;
Whose generous souls can condescend to pray
For leave to throw their precious time away.
Oh! cruel WOODFALL! when a patriot draws
His gray-goose quill in his dear country's cause,
To vex and maul a ministerial race,
Can thy stern soul refuse the champion place?
Alas! thou know'st not with what anxious heart
He longs his best-loved labours to impart;
How he has sent them to thy brethren round,
And still the same unkind reception found:
At length indignant will he damn the state,
Turn to his trade, and leave us to our fate.
These Roman souls, like Rome's great sons, are
To live in cells on labours of their own.
Thus Milo, could we see the noble chief,
Feeds, for his country's good, on legs of beef:
Camillus copies deeds for sordid pay,
Yet fights the public battles twice a-day:
E'en now the godlike Brutus views his score
Scroll'd on the bar-board, swinging with the door:
Where, tippling punch, grave Cato's self you'll
And Amor Patriae vending smuggled tea.
Last in these ranks, and least, their art's
Neglected stand the Muses' meanest race;
Scribblers who court contempt, whose verse the eye
Disdainful views, and glances swiftly by:
This Poet's Corner is the place they choose,
A fatal nursery for an infant Muse;
Unlike that Corner where true Poets lie,
These cannot live, and they shall never die;
Hapless the lad whose mind such dreams invade,
And win to verse the talents due to trade.
Curb then, O youth! these raptures as they rise,
Keep down the evil spirit and be wise;
Follow your calling, think the Muses foes,
Nor lean upon the pestle and compose.
I know your day-dreams, and I know the snare
Hid in your flow'ry path, and cry 'Beware!'
Thoughtless of ill, and to the future blind,
A sudden couplet rushes on your mind;
Here you may nameless print your idle rhymes,
And read your first-born work a thousand times;
Th'infection spreads, your couplet grows apace,
Stanzas to Delia's dog or Celia's face:
You take a name; Philander's odes are seen,
Printed, and praised, in every magazine:
Diarian sages greet their brother sage,
And your dark pages please th' enlightened age.-
Alas! what years you thus consume in vain,
Ruled by this wretched bias of the brain!
Go! to your desks and counters all return;
Your sonnets scatter, your acrostics burn;
Trade, and be rich; or, should your careful sires
Bequeath your wealth, indulge the nobler fires;
Should love of fame your youthful heart betray,
Pursue fair fame, but in a glorious way,
Nor in the idle scenes of Fancy's painting stray.
Of all the good that mortal men pursue,
The Muse has least to give, and gives to few;
Like some coquettish fair, she leads us on,
With smiles and hopes, till youth and peace are
Then, wed for life, the restless wrangling pair
Forget how constant one, and one how fair:
Meanwhile Ambition, like a blooming bride,
Brings power and wealth to grace her lover's side;
And though she smiles not with such flattering
The brave will sooner win her to their arms.
Then wed to her, if Virtue tie the bands,
Go spread your country's fame in hostile lands;
Her court, her senate, or her arms adorn,
And let her foes lament that you were born:
Or weigh her laws, their ancient rights defend,
Though hosts oppose, be theirs and Reason's friend;
Arm'd with strong powers, in their defence engage,
And rise the THURLOW of the future age.
Comments about Tale Xxi by George Crabbe
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