George Crabbe

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

The Borough. Letter Vi: Professions--Law - Poem by George Crabbe

'TRADES and Professions'--these are themes the Muse,
Left to her freedom, would forbear to choose;
But to our Borough they in truth belong,
And we, perforce, must take them in our song.
Be it then known that we can boast of these
In all denominations, ranks, degrees;
All who our numerous wants through life supply,
Who soothe us sick, attend us when we die,
Or for the dead their various talents try.
Then have we those who live by secret arts,
By hunting fortunes, and by stealing hearts;
Or who by nobler means themselves advance,
Or who subsist by charity and chance.
Say, of our native heroes shall I boast,
Born in our streets, to thunder on our coast,
Our Borough-seamen? Could the timid Muse
More patriot ardour in their breasts infuse;
Or could she paint their merit or their skill,
She wants not love, alacrity, or will:
But needless all; that ardour is their own,
And for their deeds, themselves have made them known.
Soldiers in arms! Defenders of our soil!
Who from destruction save us; who from spoil
Protect the sons of peace, who traffic, or who toil;
Would I could duly praise you; that each deed
Your foes might honour, and your friends might read:
This too is needless; you've imprinted well
Your powers, and told what I should feebly tell:
Beside, a Muse like mine, to satire prone,
Would fail in themes where there is praise alone.
- Law shall I sing, or what to Law belongs?
Alas! there may be danger in such songs;
A foolish rhyme, 'tis said, a trifling thing,
The law found treason, for it touch'd the King.
But kings have mercy, in these happy times.
Or surely One had suffered for his rhymes;
Our glorious Edwards and our Henrys bold,
So touch'd, had kept the reprobate in hold;
But he escap'd,--nor fear, thank Heav'n, have I,
Who love my king, for such offence to die.
But I am taught the danger would be much,
If these poor lines should one attorney touch -
(One of those Limbs of Law who're always here;
The Heads come down to guide them twice a year.)
I might not swing, indeed, but he in sport
Would whip a rhymer on from court to court;
Stop him in each, and make him pay for all
The long proceedings in that dreaded Hall: -
Then let my numbers flow discreetly on,
Warn'd by the fate of luckless Coddrington,
Lest some attorney (pardon me the name)
Should wound a poor solicitor for fame.
One Man of Law in George the Second's reign
Was all our frugal fathers would maintain;
He too was kept for forms; a man of peace,
To frame a contract, or to draw a lease:
He had a clerk, with whom he used to write
All the day long, with whom he drank at night,
Spare was his visage, moderate his bill,
And he so kind, men doubted of his skill.
Who thinks of this, with some amazement sees,
For one so poor, three flourishing at ease;
Nay, one in splendour! see that mansion tall,
That lofty door, the far-resounding hall;
Well-furnish'd rooms, plate shining on the board,
Gay liveried lads, and cellar proudly stored:
Then say how comes it that such fortunes crown
These sons of strife, these terrors of the town?
Lo! that small Office! there th' incautious guest
Goes blindfold in, and that maintains the rest;
There in his web, th' observant spider lies,
And peers about for fat intruding flies;
Doubtful at first, he hears the distant hum,
And feels them fluttering as they nearer come;
They buzz and blink, and doubtfully they tread
On the strong bird-lime of the utmost thread;
But when they're once entangled by the gin,
With what an eager clasp he draws them in;
Nor shall they 'scape, till after long delay,
And all that sweetens life is drawn away.
'Nay, this,' you cry, 'is common-place, the tale
Of petty tradesmen o'er their evening ale;
There are who, living by the legal pen,
Are held in honour,--'Honourable men''
Doubtless--there are who hold manorial courts,
Or whom the trust of powerful friends supports,
Or who, by labouring through a length of time,
Have pick'd their way, unsullied by a crime.
These are the few: in this, in every place,
Fix the litigious rupture-stirring race;
Who to contention as to trade are led,
To whom dispute and strife are bliss and bread.
There is a doubtful Pauper, and we think
'Tis not with us to give him meat and drink;
There is a Child; and 'tis not mighty clear
Whether the mother lived with us a year:
A Road's indicted, and our seniors doubt
If in our proper boundary or without:
But what says our attorney? He, our friend,
Tells us 'tis just and manly to contend.
'What! to a neighbouring parish yield your cause,
While you have money, and the nation laws?
What! lose without a trial, that which, tried,
May--nay it must--be given on our side?
All men of spirit would contend; such men
Than lose a pound would rather hazard ten.
What! be imposed on? No! a British soul
Despises imposition, hates control:
The law is open; let them, if they dare,
Support their cause; the Borough need not spare.
All I advise is vigour and good-will:
Is it agreed then--Shall I file a bill?'
The trader, grazier, merchant, priest, and all,
Whose sons aspiring, to professions call,
Choose from their lads some bold and subtle boy,
And judge him fitted for this grave employ:
Him a keen old practitioner admits,
To write five years and exercise his wits:
The youth has heard--it is in fact his creed -
Mankind dispute, that Lawyers may be fee'd:
Jails, bailiffs, writs, all terms and threats of Law,
Grow now familiar as once top and taw;
Rage, hatred, fear, the mind's severer ills,
All bring employment, all augment his bills:
As feels the surgeon for the mangled limb,
The mangled mind is but a job for him;
Thus taught to think, these legal reasoners draw
Morals and maxims from their views of Law;
They cease to judge by precepts taught in schools,
By man's plain sense, or by religious rules;
No! nor by law itself, in truth discern'd,
But as its statutes may be warp'd and turn'd:
How they should judge of man, his word and deed,
They in their books and not their bosoms read:
Of some good act you speak with just applause;
'No, no!' says he, ''twould be a losing cause:
Blame you some tyrant's deed?--he answers 'Nay,
He'll get a verdict; heed you what you say.'
Thus to conclusions from examples led,
The heart resigns all judgment to the head;
Law, law alone for ever kept in view,
His measures guides, and rules his conscience too;
Of ten commandments, he confesses three
Are yet in force, and tells you which they be,
As Law instructs him, thus: 'Your neighbour's wife
You must not take, his chattles, nor his life;
Break these decrees, for damage you must pay;
These you must reverence, and the rest--you may.'
Law was design'd to keep a state in peace;
To punish robbery, that wrong might cease;
To be impregnable: a constant fort,
To which the weak and injured might resort:
But these perverted minds its force employ,
Not to protect mankind, but to annoy;
And long as ammunition can be found,
Its lightning flashes and its thunders sound.
Or Law with lawyers is an ample still,
Wrought by the passions' heat with chymic skill:
While the fire burns, the gains are quickly made,
And freely flow the profits of the trade;
Nay, when the fierceness fails, these artists blow
The dying fire, and make the embers glow,
As long as they can make the smaller profits flow:
At length the process of itself will stop,
When they perceive they've drawn out every drop.
Yet, I repeat, there are who nobly strive
To keep the sense of moral worth alive;
Men who would starve, ere meanly deign to live
On what deception and chican'ry give;
And these at length succeed; they have their strife,
Their apprehensions, stops, and rubs in life;
But honour, application, care, and skill,
Shall bend opposing fortune to their will.
Of such is Archer, he who keeps in awe
Contending parties by his threats of law:
He, roughly honest, has been long a guide
In Borough-business, on the conquering side;
And seen so much of both sides, and so long,
He thinks the bias of man's mind goes wrong:
Thus, though he's friendly, he is still severe,
Surly, though kind, suspiciously sincere:
So much he's seen of baseness in the mind,
That, while a friend to man, he scorns mankind;
He knows the human heart, and sees with dread,
By slight temptation, how the strong are led;
He knows how interest can asunder rend
The bond of parent, master, guardian, friend,
To form a new and a degrading tie
'Twixt needy vice and tempting villainy.
Sound in himself, yet when such flaws appear,
He doubts of all, and learns that self to fear:
For where so dark the moral view is grown,
A timid conscience trembles for her own;
The pitchy-taint of general vice is such
As daubs the fancy, and you dread the touch.
Far unlike him was one in former times,
Famed for the spoil he gather'd by his crimes;
Who, while his brethren nibbling held their prey,
He like an eagle seized and bore the whole away.
Swallow, a poor Attorney, brought his boy
Up at his desk, and gave him his employ;
He would have bound him to an honest trade,
Could preparations have been duly made.
The clerkship ended, both the sire and son
Together did what business could be done;
Sometimes they'd luck to stir up small disputes
Among their friends, and raise them into suits:
Though close and hard, the father was content
With this resource, now old and indolent:
But his young Swallow, gaping and alive
To fiercer feelings, was resolved to thrive: -
'Father,' he said, 'but little can they win,
Who hunt in couples where the game is thin;
Let's part in peace, and each pursue his gain,
Where it may start--our love may yet remain.'
The parent growl'd, he couldn't think that love
Made the young cockatrice his den remove;
But, taught by habit, he the truth suppress 'd,
Forced a frank look, and said he 'thought it best.'
Not long they'd parted ere dispute arose;
The game they hunted quickly made them foes.
Some house the father by his art had won
Seem'd a fit cause of contest to the son,
Who raised a claimant, and then found a way
By a staunch witness to secure his prey.
The people cursed him, but in times of need
Trusted in one so certain to succeed:
By Law's dark by-ways he had stored his mind
With wicked knowledge, how to cheat mankind.
Few are the freeholds in our ancient town;
A copyright from heir to heir came down,
From whence some heat arose, when there was doubt
In point of heirship; but the fire went out,
Till our attorney had the art to raise
The dying spark, and blow it to a blaze:
For this he now began his friends to treat;
His way to starve them was to make them eat,
And drink oblivious draughts--to his applause,
It must be said, he never starved a cause;
He'd roast and boil'd upon his board; the boast
Of half his victims was his boil'd and roast;
And these at every hour: --he seldom took
Aside his client, till he'd praised his cook;
Nor to an office led him, there in pain
To give his story and go out again;
But first the brandy and the chine where seen,
And then the business came by starts between.
'Well, if 'tis so, the house to you belongs;
But have you money to redress these wrongs?
Nay, look not sad, my friend; if you're correct,
You'll find the friendship that you'd not expect.'
If right the man, the house was Swallow's own;
If wrong, his kindness and good-will were shown:
'Rogue!' 'Villain!' 'Scoundrel!' cried the losers all:
He let them cry, for what would that recall?
At length he left us, took a village seat,
And like a vulture look'd abroad for meat;
The Borough-booty, give it all its praise,
Had only served the appetite to raise;
But if from simple heirs he drew their land,
He might a noble feast at will command;
Still he proceeded by his former rules,
His bait their pleasures, when he fished for fools -
Flagons and haunches on his board were placed,
And subtle avarice look'd like thoughtless waste:
Most of his friends, though youth from him had fled,
Were young, were minors, of their sires in dread;
Or those whom widow'd mothers kept in bounds,
And check'd their generous rage for steeds and hounds;
Or such as travell'd 'cross the land to view
A Christian's conflict with a boxing Jew:
Some too had run upon Newmarket heath
With so much speed that they were out of breath;
Others had tasted claret, till they now
To humbler port would turn, and knew not how.
All these for favours would to Swallow run,
Who never sought their thanks for all he'd done;
He kindly took them by the hand, then bow'd
Politely low, and thus his love avow'd -
(For he'd a way that many judged polite,
A cunning dog--he'd fawn before he'd bite) -
'Observe, my friends, the frailty of our race
When age unmans us--let me state a case:
There's our friend Rupert--we shall soon redress
His present evil--drink to our success -
I flatter not; but did you ever see
Limbs better turn'd? a prettier boy than he?
His senses all acute, his passions such
As Nature gave--she never does too much;
His the bold wish the cup of joy to drain,
And strength to bear it without qualm or pain.
'Now view his father as he dozing lies,
Whose senses wake not when he opes his eyes;
Who slips and shuffles when he means to walk,
And lisps and gabbles if he tries to talk;
Feeling he's none--he could as soon destroy
The earth itself, as aught it holds enjoy;
A nurse attends him to lay straight his limbs,
Present his gruel, and respect his whims:
Now shall this dotard from our hero hold
His lands and lordships? Shall he hide his gold!
That which he cannot use, and dare not show,
And will not give--why longer should he owe?
Yet, t'would be murder should we snap the locks,
And take the thing he worships from the box;
So let him dote and dream: but, till he die,
Shall not our generous heir receive supply?
For ever sitting on the river's brink?
And ever thirsty, shall he fear to drink?
The means are simple, let him only wish,
Then say he's willing, and I'll fill his dish.'
They all applauded, and not least the boy,
Who now replied, 'It fill'd his heart with joy
To find he needed not deliv'rance crave
Of death, or wish the Justice in the grave;
Who, while he spent, would every art retain,
Of luring home the scatter'd gold again;
Just as a fountain gaily spirts and plays
With what returns in still and secret ways.'
Short was the dream of bliss; he quickly found
His father's acres all were Swallow's ground.
Yet to those arts would other heroes lend
A willing ear, and Swallow was their friend;
Ever successful, some began to think
That Satan help'd him to his pen and ink;
And shrewd suspicions ran about the place,
'There was a compact'--I must leave the case.
But of the parties, had the fiend been one,
The business could not have been speedier done:
Still when a man has angled day and night,
The silliest gudgeons will refuse to bite:
So Swallow tried no more: but if they came
To seek his friendship, that remain'd the same:
Thus he retired in peace, and some would say
He'd balk'd his partner, and had learn'd to pray.
To this some zealots lent an ear, and sought
How Swallow felt, then said 'a change is wrought.'
'Twas true there wanted all the signs of grace,
But there were strong professions in their place;
Then, too, the less that men from him expect,
The more the praise to the converting sect;
He had not yet subscribed to all their creed,
Nor own'd a Call, but he confess'd the need:
His aquiescent speech, his gracious look,
That pure attention, when the brethren spoke,
Was all contrition,--he had felt the wound,
And with confession would again be sound.
True, Swallow's board had still the sumptuous treat;
But could they blame? the warmest zealots eat:
He drank--'twas needful his poor nerves to brace;
He swore--'twas habit; he was grieved--'twas grace:
What could they do a new-born zeal to nurse?
'His wealth's undoubted--let him hold our purse;
He'll add his bounty, and the house we'll raise
Hard by the church, and gather all her strays:
We'll watch her sinners as they home retire,
And pluck the brands from the devouring fire.'
Alas! such speech was but an empty boast;
The good men reckon'd, but without their host;
Swallow, delighted, took the trusted store,
And own'd the sum; they did not ask for more,
Till more was needed; when they call'd for aid -
And had it?--No, their agent was afraid:
'Could he but know to whom he should refund
He would most gladly--nay, he'd go beyond;
But when such numbers claim'd, when some were gone.
And others going--he must hold it on;
The Lord would help them.'--Loud their anger grew,
And while they threat'ning from his door withdrew,
He bow'd politely low, and bade them all adieu,
But lives the man by whom such deeds are done!
Yes, many such--But Swallow's race is run;
His name is lost,--for though his sons have name,
It is not his, they all escape the shame;
Nor is there vestige now of all he had,
His means are wasted, for his heir was mad:
Still we of Swallow as a monster speak,
A hard bad man, who prey'd upon the weak.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 16, 2010



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