The Borough. Letter X: Clubs And Social Meetings - Poem by George Crabbe
YOU say you envy in your calm retreat
Our social Meetings;--'tis with joy we meet.
In these our parties you are pleased to find
Good sense and wit, with intercourse of mind;
Composed of men who read, reflect, and write,
Who, when they meet, must yield and share delight.
To you our Book-club has peculiar charm,
For which you sicken in your quiet farm;
Here you suppose us at our leisure placed,
Enjoying freedom, and displaying taste:
With wisdom cheerful, temperately gay,
Pleased to enjoy, and willing to display.
If thus your envy gives your ease its gloom,
Give wings to fancy, and among us come.
We're now assembled; you may soon attend -
I'll introduce you--'Gentlemen, my friend.'
'Now are you happy? you have pass'd a night
In gay discourse, and rational delight.'
'Alas! not so: for how can mortals think,
Or thoughts exchange, if thus they eat and drink?
No! I confess when we had fairly dined,
That was no time for intercourse of mind;
There was each dish prepared with skill t'invite,
And to detain the struggling appetite;
On such occasions minds with one consent
Are to the comforts of the body lent;
There was no pause--the wine went quickly round,
Till struggling Fancy was by Bacchus bound;
Wine is to wit as water thrown on fire,
By duly sprinkling both are raised the higher;
Thus largely dealt, the vivid blaze they choke,
And all the genial flame goes off in smoke.'
'But when no more your boards these loads
When wine no more o'erwhelms the labouring brain,
But serves, a gentle stimulus; we know
How wit must sparkle, and how fancy flow.'
It might be so, but no such club-days come;
We always find these dampers in the room:
If to converse were all that brought us here,
A few odd members would in turn appear;
Who, dwelling nigh, would saunter in and out,
O'erlook the list, and toss the books about;
Or yawning read them, walking up and down,
Just as the loungers in the shops in town;
Till fancying nothing would their minds amuse,
They'd push them by, and go in search of news.
But our attractions are a stronger sort,
The earliest dainties and the oldest port;
All enter then with glee in every look,
And not a member thinks about a book.
Still, let me own, there are some vacant hours,
When minds might work, and men exert their powers:
Ere wine to folly spurs the giddy guest,
But gives to wit its vigour and its zest;
Then might we reason, might in turn display
Our several talents, and be wisely gay;
We might--but who a tame discourse regards,
When Whist is named, and we behold the Cards?
We from that time are neither grave nor gay;
Our thought, our care, our business is to play:
Fix'd on these spots and figures, each attends
Much to his partners, nothing to his friends.
Our public cares, the long, the warm debate,
That kept our patriots from their beds so late;
War, peace, invasion, all we hope or dread,
Vanish like dreams when men forsake their bed;
And groaning nations and contending kings
Are all forgotten for these painted things;
Paper and paste, vile figures and poor spots,
Level all minds, philosophers and sots;
And give an equal spirit, pause, and force,
Join'd with peculiar diction, to discourse:
'Who deals?--you led--we're three by cards--had you
Honour in hand?'--'Upon my honour, two.'
Hour after hour, men thus contending sit,
Grave without sense, and pointed without wit.
Thus it appears these envied Clubs possess
No certain means of social happiness;
Yet there's a good that flows from scenes like
Man meets with man at leisure and at ease;
We to our neighbours and our equals come,
And rub off pride that man. contracts at home;
For there, admitted master, he is prone
To claim attention and to talk alone:
But here he meets with neither son nor spouse;
No humble cousin to his bidding bows;
To his raised voice his neighbours' voices rise,
To his high look as lofty look replies;
When much he speaks, he finds that ears are closed,
And certain signs inform him when he's prosed;
Here all the value of a listener know,
And claim, in turn, the favour they bestow.
No pleasure gives the speech, when all would
And all in vain a civil hearer seek.
To chance alone we owe the free discourse,
In vain you purpose what you cannot force;
'Tis when the favourite themes unbidden spring,
That fancy soars with such unwearied wing;
Then may you call in aid the moderate glass,
But let it slowly and unprompted pass;
So shall there all things for the end unite,
And give that hour of rational delight.
Men to their Clubs repair, themselves to please,
To care for nothing, and to take their ease;
In fact, for play, for wine, for news they come:
Discourse is shared with friends or found at home.
But Cards with Books are incidental things;
We've nights devoted to these queens and kings:
Then if we choose the social game, we may;
Now 'tis a duty, and we're bound to play;
Nor ever meeting of the social kind
Was more engaging, yet had less of mind.
Our eager parties, when the lunar light
Throws its full radiance on the festive night,
Of either sex, with punctual hurry come,
And fill, with one accord, an ample room;
Pleased, the fresh packs on cloth of green they
And seizing, handle with preluding glee;
They draw, they sit, they shuffle, cut, and deal;
Like friends assembled, but like foes to feel:
But yet not all,--a happier few have joys
Of mere amusement, and their cards are toys;
No skill nor art, nor fretful hopes have they,
But while their friends are gaming, laugh and play.
Others there are, the veterans of the game,
Who owe their pleasure to their envied fame;
Through many a year with hard-contested strife,
Have they attain'd this glory of their life:
Such is that ancient burgess, whom in vain
Would gout and fever on his couch detain;
And that large lady, who resolves to come,
Though a first fit has warn'd her of her doom!
These are as oracles: in every cause
They settle doubts, and their decrees are laws;
But all are troubled, when, with dubious look,
Diana questions what Apollo spoke.
Here avarice first, the keen desire of gain,
Rules in each heart, and works in every brain:
Alike the veteran-dames and virgins feel,
Nor care what graybeards or what striplings deal;
Sex, age, and station, vanish from their view,
And gold, their sov'reign good, the mingled crowd
Hence they are jealous, and as rivals, keep
A watchful eye on the beloved heap;
Meantime discretion bids the tongue be still,
And mild good-humour strives with strong ill-will
Till prudence fails; when, all impatient grown,
They make their grief by their suspicions known,
'Sir, I protest, were Job himself at play,
He'd rave to see you throw your cards away;
Not that I care a button--not a pin
For what I lose; but we had cards to win:
A saint in heaven would grieve to see such hand
Cut up by one who will not understand.'
'Complain of me! and so you might indeed
If I had ventured on that foolish lead,
That fatal heart--but I forgot your play -
Some folk have ever thrown their hearts away.'
'Yes, and their diamonds; I have heard of one
Who made a beggar of an only son.'
'Better a beggar, than to see him tied
To art and spite, to insolence and pride.'
'Sir, were I you, I'd strive to be polite,
Against my nature, for a single night.'
'So did you strive, and, madam! with success;
I knew no being we could censure less!'
Is this too much? Alas! my peaceful Muse
Cannot with half their virulence abuse.
And hark! at other tables discord reigns,
With feign'd contempt for losses and for gains;
Passions awhile are bridled: then they rage,
In waspish youth, and in resentful age;
With scraps of insult--'Sir, when next you play,
Reflect whose money 'tis you throw away.
No one on earth can less such things regard,
But when one's partner doesn't know a card -
I scorn suspicion, ma'am, but while you stand
Behind that lady, pray keep down your hand.'
'Good heav'n, revoke: remember, if the set
Be lost, in honour you should pay the debt.'
'There, there's your money; but, while I have
I'll never more sit down with man and wife;
They snap and snarl indeed, but in the heat
Of all their spleen, their understandings meet;
They are Freemasons, and have many a sign,
That we, poor devils! never can divine:
May it be told, do ye divide th' amount,
Or goes it all to family account?'
Next is the Club, where to their friends in town
Our country neighbours once a month come down;
We term it Free-and-Easy, and yet we
Find it no easy matter to be free:
E'en in our small assembly, friends among,
Are minds perverse, there's something will be
Men are not equal; some will claim a right
To be the kings and heroes of the night;
Will their own favourite themes and notions start,
And you must hear, offend them, or depart.
There comes Sir Thomas from his village-seat,
Happy, he tells us, all his friends to meet;
He brings the ruin'd brother of his wife,
Whom he supports, and makes him sick of life;
A ready witness whom he can produce
Of all his deeds--a butt for his abuse;
Soon as he enters, has the guests espied,
Drawn to the fire, and to the glass applied -
'Well, what's the subject?--what are you about?
The news, I take it--come, I'll help you out:' -
And then, without one answer he bestows
Freely upon us all he hears and knows;
Gives us opinions, tells us how he votes,
Recites the speeches, adds to them his notes;
And gives old ill-told tales for new-born
Yet cares he nothing what we judge or think,
Our only duty's to attend and drink:
At length, admonish'd by his gout he ends
The various speech, and leaves at peace his
But now, alas! we've lost the pleasant hour,
And wisdom flies from wine's superior power.
Wine like the rising sun, possession gains,
And drives the mist of dulness from the brains;
The gloomy vapour from the spirit flies,
And views of gaiety and gladness rise:
Still it proceeds; till from the glowing heat,
The prudent calmly to their shades retreat: -
Then is the mind o'ercast--in wordy rage
And loud contention angry men engage;
Then spleen and pique, like fireworks thrown in
To mischief turn the pleasures of the night;
Anger abuses, Malice loudly rails,
Revenge awakes, and Anarchy prevails;
Till wine, that raised the tempest, makes its
And maudlin Love insists on instant peace;
He, noisy mirth and roaring song commands,
Gives idle toasts, and joins unfriendly bands:
Till fuddled Friendship vows esteem and weeps,
And jovial Folly drinks and sings and sleeps.
A Club there is of Smokers--Dare you come
To that close, clouded, hot, narcotic room?
When, midnight past, the very candles seem
Dying for air, and give a ghastly gleam;
When curling fumes in lazy wreaths arise,
And prosing topers rub their winking eyes;
When the long tale, renew'd when last they met,
Is spliced anew, and is unfinish'd yet;
When but a few are left the house to tire,
And they half sleeping by the sleepy fire;
E'en the poor ventilating vane that flew
Of late so fast, is now grown drowsy too;
When sweet, cold, clammy punch its aid bestows,
Then thus the midnight conversation flows: -
'Then, as I said, and--mind me--as I say,
At our last meeting--you remember'--'Ay?'
'Well, very well--then freely as I drink
I spoke my thought--you take me--what I think.
And, sir, said I, if I a Freeman be,
It is my bounden duty to be free.'
'Ay, there you posed him: I respect the Chair,
But man is man, although the man's a mayor;
If Muggins live--no, no!--if Muggins die,
He'll quit his office--neighbour, shall I try?'
'I'll speak my mind, for here are none but
They're all contending for their private ends;
No public spirit--once a vote would bring,
I say a vote--was then a pretty thing;
It made a man to serve his country and his king:
But for that place, that Muggins must resign,
You've my advice--'tis no affair of mine.'
The Poor Man has his Club: he comes and spends
His hoarded pittance with his chosen friends;
Nor this alone,--a monthly dole he pays,
To be assisted when his health decays;
Some part his prudence, from the day's supply,
For cares and troubles in his age, lays by;
The printed rules he guards with painted frame,
And shows his children where to read his name;
Those simple words his honest nature move,
That bond of union tied by laws of love;
This is his pride, it gives to his employ
New value, to his home another joy;
While a religious hope its balm applies
For all his fate inflicts, and all his state
Much would it please you, sometimes to explore
The peaceful dwellings of our Borough poor:
To view a sailor just return'd from sea,
His wife beside; a child on either knee,
And others crowding near, that none may lose
The smallest portions of the welcome news;
What dangers pass'd, 'When seas ran mountains high,
When tempest raved, and horrors veil'd the sky;
When prudence fail'd, when courage grew dismay'd,
When the strong fainted, and the wicked pray'd, -
Then in the yawning gulf far down we drove,
And gazed upon the billowy mount above;
Till up that mountain, swinging with the gale,
We view'd the horrors of the watery vale.'
The trembling children look with steadfast eyes,
And, panting, sob involuntary sighs:
Soft sleep awhile his torpid touch delays,
And all is joy and piety and praise.
Masons are ours, Freemasons--but, alas!
To their own bards I leave the mystic class;
In vain shall one, and not a gifted man,
Attempt to sing of this enlightened clan:
I know no Word, boast no directing Sign,
And not one Token of the race is mine;
Whether with Hiram, that wise widow's son,
They came from Tyre to royal Solomon,
Two pillars raising by their skill profound,
Boaz and Jachin through the east renown'd:
Whether the sacred Books their rise express,
Or books profane, 'tis vain for me guess:
It may be lost in date remote and high,
They know not what their own antiquity:
It may be, too, derived from cause so low,
They have no wish their origin to show:
If, as Crusaders, they combine to wrest
From heathen lords the land they long possess'd;
Or were at first some harmless club, who made
Their idle meetings solemn by parade;
Is but conjecture--for the task unfit,
Awe-struck and mute, the puzzling theme I quit:
Yet, if such blessings from their Order flow,
We should be glad their moral code to know;
Trowels of silver are but simple things,
And Aprons worthless as their apron-strings;
But if indeed you have the skill to teach
A social spirit, now beyond our reach;
If man's warm passions you can guide and bind,
And plant the virtues in the wayward mind;
If you can wake to Christian love the heart, -
In mercy, something of your powers impart.
But, as it seems, we Masons must become
To know the Secret, and must then be dumb;
And as we venture for uncertain gains,
Perhaps the profit is not worth the pains.
When Bruce, that dauntless traveller, thought he
On Nile's first rise, the fountain of the flood,
And drank exulting in the sacred spring,
The critics told him it was no such thing;
That springs unnumber'd round the country ran,
But none could show him where the first began:
So might we feel, should we our time bestow,
To gain these Secrets and these Signs to know;
Might question still if all the truth we found,
And firmly stood upon the certain ground;
We might our title to the Mystery dread,
And fear we drank not at the river-head.
G riggs and Gregorians here their meeting hold,
Convivial Sects, and Bucks alert and bold;
A kind of Masons, but without their sign;
The bonds of union--pleasure, song, and wine.
Man, a gregarious creature, loves to fly
Where he the trackings of the herd can spy;
Still to be one with many he desires,
Although it leads him through the thorns and
A few! but few there are, who in the mind
Perpetual source of consolation find:
The weaker many to the world will come,
For comforts seldom to be found from home.
When the faint hands no more a brimmer hold,
When flannel-wreaths the useless limbs infold,
The breath impeded, and the bosom cold;
When half the pillow'd man the palsy chains,
And the blood falters in the bloated veins, -
Then, as our friends no further aid supply
Than hope's cold phrase and courtesy's soft sigh,
We should that comfort for ourselves ensure,
Which friends could not, if we could friends
Early in life, when we can laugh aloud,
There's something pleasant in a social crowd,
Who laugh with us--but will such joy remain
When we lie struggling on the bed of pain?
When our physician tells us with a sigh,
No more on hope and science to rely,
Life's staff is useless then; with labouring breath
We pray for Hope divine--the staff of Death; -
This is a scene which few companions grace,
And where the heart's first favourites yield their
Here all the aid of man to man must end,
Here mounts the soul to her eternal Friend:
The tenderest love must here its tie resign,
And give th' aspiring heart to love divine.
Men feel their weakness, and to numbers run,
Themselves to strengthen, or themselves to shun;
But though to this our weakness may be prone,
Let's learn to live, for we must die, alone.
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