The Borough. Letter Xiii: The Alms-House And Trustees - Poem by George Crabbe
LEAVE now our streets, and in yon plain behold
Those pleasant Seats for the reduced and old;
A merchant's gift, whose wife and children died,
When he to saving all his powers applied;
He wore his coat till bare was every thread,
And with the meanest fare his body fed.
He had a female cousin, who with care
Walk'd in his steps, and learn'd of him to spare;
With emulation and success they strove,
Improving still, still seeking to improve,
As if that useful knowledge they would gain -
How little food would human life sustain:
No pauper came their table's crumbs to crave;
Scraping they lived, but not a scrap they gave:
When beggars saw the frugal Merchant pass,
It moved their pity, and they said, 'Alas!
Hard is thy fate my brother,' and they felt
A beggar's pride as they that pity dealt.
The dogs, who learn of man to scorn the poor,
Bark'd him away from every decent door;
While they who saw him bare, but thought him rich,
To show respect or scorn, they knew not which.
But while our Merchant seemed so base and mean,
He had his wanderings, sometimes 'not unseen;'
To give in secret was a favourite act,
Yet more than once they took him in the fact
To scenes of various woe he nightly went,
And serious sums in healing misery spent;
Oft has he cheer'd the wretched at a rate
For which he daily might have dined on plate;
He has been seen--his hair all silver-white,
Shaking and shining--as he stole by night,
To feed unenvied on his still delight.
A twofold taste he had; to give and spare,
Both were his duties, and had equal care;
It was his joy to sit alone and fast,
Then send a widow and her boys repast:
Tears in his eyes would spite of him appear,
But he from other eyes has kept the tear:
All in a wint'ry night from far he came,
To soothe the sorrows of a suffering dame;
Whose husband robb'd him, and to whom he meant
A ling'ring, but reforming punishment:
Home then he walked, and found his anger rise
When fire and rushlight met his troubled eyes;
But these extinguish'd, and his prayer address'd
To Heaven in hope, he calmly sank to rest.
His seventieth year was pass'd and then was seen
A building rising on the northern green;
There was no blinding all his neighbours' eyes,
Or surely no one would have seen it rise:
Twelve rooms contiguous stood, and six were near,
There men were placed, and sober matrons here:
There were behind small useful gardens made,
Benches before, and trees to give them shade;
In the first room were seen above, below,
Some marks of taste, a few attempts at show.
The founder's picture and his arms were there
(Not till he left us), and an elbow'd chair;
There, 'mid these signs of his superior place,
Sat the mild ruler of this humble race.
Within the row are men who strove in vain,
Through years of trouble, wealth and ease to gain;
Less must they have than an appointed sum,
And freemen been, or hither must not come;
They should be decent, and command respect,
(Though needing fortune), whom these doors protect,
And should for thirty dismal years have tried
For peace unfelt and competence denied.
Strange! that o'er men thus train'd in sorrow's
Power must be held, and they must live by rule;
Infirm, corrected by misfortunes, old,
Their habits settled and their passions cold;
Of health, wealth, power, and worldly cares bereft,
Still must they not at liberty be left;
There must be one to rule them, to restrain
And guide the movements of his erring train.
If then control imperious, check severe,
Be needed where such reverend men appear;
To what would youth, without such checks, aspire,
Free the wild wish, uncurb'd the strong desire?
And where (in college or in camp) they found
The heart ungovern'd and the hand unbound?
His house endow'd, the generous man resign'd
All power to rule, nay power of choice declined;
He and the female saint survived to view
Their work complete, and bade the world adieu!
Six are the Guardians of this happy seat,
And one presides when they on business meet;
As each expires, the five a brother choose;
Nor would Sir Denys Brand the charge refuse;
True, 'twas beneath him, 'but to do men good
Was motive never by his heart withstood:'
He too is gone, and they again must strive
To find a man in whom his gifts survive.
Now, in the various records of the dead,
Thy worth, Sir Denys, shall be weigh'd and read;
There we the glory of thy house shall trace,
With each alliance of thy noble race.
Yes! here we have him!--'Came in William's
The Norman Brand; the blood without a stain;
From the fierce Dane and ruder Saxon clear,
Pict, Irish, Scot, or Cambrian mountaineer:
But the pure Norman was the sacred spring,
And he, Sir Denys, was in heart a king:
Erect in person and so firm in soul,
Fortune he seem'd to govern and control:
Generous as he who gives his all away,
Prudent as one who toils for weekly pay;
In him all merits were decreed to meet,
Sincere though cautious, frank and yet discreet,
Just all his dealings, faithful every word,
His passions' master, and his temper's lord.'
Yet more, kind dealers in decaying fame?
His magnanimity you next proclaim;
You give him learning, join'd with sound good
And match his wealth with his benevolence;
What hides the multitude of sins, you add,
Yet seem to doubt if sins he ever had.
Poor honest Truth! thou writ'st of living men,
And art a railer and detractor then;
They die, again to be described, and now
A foe to merit and mankind art thou!
Why banish Truth? It injures not the dead,
It aids not them with flattery to be fed;
And when mankind such perfect pictures view,
They copy less, the more they think them true.
Let us a mortal as he was behold,
And see the dross adhering to the gold;
When we the errors of the virtuous state,
Then erring men their worth may emulate.
View then this picture of a noble mind,
Let him be wise, magnanimous, and kind;
What was the wisdom? Was it not the frown
That keeps all question, all inquiry down?
His words were powerful and decisive all,
But his slow reasons came for no man's call.
''Tis thus,' he cried, no doubt with kind intent,
To give results and spare all argument: -
'Let it be spared--all men at least agree
Sir Denys Brand had magnanimity:
His were no vulgar charities; none saw
Him like the Merchant to the hut withdraw;
He left to meaner minds the simple deed,
By which the houseless rest, the hungry feed
His was a public bounty vast and grand,
'Twas not in him to work with viewless hand;
He raised the Room that towers above the street,
A public room where grateful parties meet;
He first the Life-boat plann'd; to him the place
Is deep in debt--'twas he revived the Race;
To every public act this hearty friend
Would give with freedom or with frankness lend;
His money built the Jail, nor prisoner yet
Sits at his ease, but he must feel the debt;
To these let candour add his vast display;
Around his mansion all is grand and gay,
And this is bounty with the name of pay.'
I grant the whole, nor from one deed retract,
But wish recorded too the private act:
All these were great, but still our hearts approve
Those simpler tokens of the Christian love;
'Twould give me joy some gracious deed to meet
That has not call'd for glory through the street:
Who felt for many, could not always shun,
In some soft moment, to be kind to one;
And yet they tell us, when Sir Denys died,
That not a widow in the Borough sigh'd;
Great were his gifts, his mighty heart I own,
But why describe what all the world has known?
The rest is petty pride, the useless art
Of a vain mind to hide a swelling heart:
Small was his private room: men found him there
By a plain table, on a paltry chair;
A wretched floor-cloth, and some prints around,
The easy purchase of a single pound:
These humble trifles and that study small
Make a strong contrast with the servants' hall;
There barely comfort, here a proud excess,
The pompous seat of pamper'd idleness,
Where the sleek rogues with one consent declare,
They would not live upon his honour's fare;
He daily took but one half hour to dine,
On one poor dish and some three sips of wine;
Then he'd abuse them for their sumptuous feasts,
And say, 'My friends! you make yourselves like
One dish suffices any man to dine,
But you are greedy as a herd of swine;
Learn to be temperate.'--Had they dared t'obey,
He would have praised and turn'd them all away.
Friends met Sir Denys riding in his ground,
And there the meekness of his spirit found:
For that gray coat, not new for many a year,
Hides all that would like decent dress appear;
An old brown pony 'twas his will to ride,
Who shuffled onward, and from side to side;
A five-pound purchase, but so fat and sleek,
His very plenty made the creature weak.
'Sir Denys Brand! and on so poor a steed!'
'Poor! it may be--such things I never heed:'
And who that youth behind, of pleasant mien,
Equipped as one who wishes to be seen,
Upon a horse, twice victor for a plate,
A noble hunter, bought at dearest rate? -
Him the lad fearing yet resolved to guide,
He curbs his spirit while he strokes his pride.
'A handsome youth, Sir Denys; and a horse
Of finer figure never trod the course, -
Yours, without question?'--'Yes! I think a groom
Bought me the beast; I cannot say the sum
I ride him not; it is a foolish pride
Men have in cattle--but my people ride;
The boy is--hark ye, sirrah! what's your name?
Ay, Jacob, yes! I recollect--the same;
As I bethink me now, a tenant's son -
I think a tenant,--is your father one?'
There was an idle boy who ran about,
And found his master's humble spirit out;
He would at awful distance snatch a look,
Then run away and hide him in some nook;
'For oh!' quoth he, 'I dare not fix my sight
On him, his grandeur puts me in a fright;
Oh! Mister Jacob, when you wait on him,
Do you not quake and tremble every limb?'
The Steward soon had orders--'Summers, see
That Sam be clothed, and let him wait on me.'
Sir Denys died, bequeathing all affairs
In trust to Laughton's long-experienced cares;
Before a Guardian, and Sir Denys dead,
All rule and power devolved upon his head,
Numbers are call'd to govern, but in fact
Only the powerful and assuming act.
Laughton, too wise to be a dupe to fame,
Cared not a whit of what descent he came,
Till he was rich; he then conceived the thought
To fish for pedigree, but never caught:
All his desire, when he was young and poor,
Was to advance; he never cared for more:
'Let me buy, sell, be factor, take a wife,
Take any road, to get along in life.'
Was he a miser then? a robber? foe
To those who trusted? a deceiver?--No!
He was ambitious; all his powers of mind
Were to one end controll'd, improved, combined;
Wit, learning, judgment, were, by his account,
Steps for the ladder he design'd to mount;
Such step was money: wealth was but his slave,
For power he gain'd it, and for power he gave:
Full well the Borough knows that he'd the art
Of bringing money to the surest mart;
Friends too were aids,--they led to certain ends,
Increase of power and claim on other friends.
A favourite step was marriage: then he gain'd
Seat in our Hall, and o'er his party reign'd;
Houses and land he bought, and long'd to buy,
But never drew the springs of purchase dry,
And thus at last they answer'd every call,
The failing found him ready for their fall:
He walks along the street, the mart, the quay,
And looks and mutters, 'This belongs to me.'
His passions all partook the general bent;
Interest inform'd him when he should resent,
How long resist, and on what terms relent:
In points where he determined to succeed,
In vain might reason or compassion plead;
But gain'd his point, he was the best of men,
'Twas loss of time to be vexatious then:
Hence he was mild to all men whom he led,
Of all who dared resist, the scourge and dread.
Falsehood in him was not the useless lie
Of boasting pride or laughing vanity:
It was the gainful, the persuading art,
That made its way and won the doubting heart,
Which argued, soften'd, humbled, and prevail'd,
Nor was it tried till ev'ry truth had fail'd;
No sage on earth could more than he despise
Degrading, poor, unprofitable lies.
Though fond of gain, and grieved by wanton
To social parties he had no distaste;
With one presiding purpose in his view,
He sometimes could descend to trifle too!
Yet, in these moments, he had still the art
To ope the looks and close the guarded heart;
And, like the public host, has sometimes made
A grand repast, for which the guests have paid.
At length, with power endued and wealthy grown,
Frailties and passions, long suppress'd, were
Then to provoke him was a dangerous thing,
His pride would punish, and his temper sting;
His powerful hatred sought th' avenging hour,
And his proud vengeance struck with all his power,
Save when th' offender took a prudent way
The rising storm of fury to allay:
This might he do, and so in safety sleep,
By largely casting to the angry deep;
Or, better yet (its swelling force t'assuage),
By pouring oil of flattery on its rage.
And now, of all the heart approved, possess'd,
Fear'd, favour'd, follow'd, dreaded, and caress'd,
He gently yields to one mellifluous joy,
The only sweet that is not found to cloy,
Bland adulation!--other pleasures pall
On the sick taste, and transient are they all;
But this one sweet has such enchanting power,
The more we take, the faster we devour:
Nauseous to those who must the dose apply,
And most disgusting to the standers-by;
Yet in all companies will Laughton feed,
Nor care how grossly men perform the deed.
As gapes the nursling, or, what comes more near,
Some Friendly-Island chief, for hourly cheer;
When wives and slaves, attending round his seat,
Prepare by turns the masticated meat;
So for this master, husband, parent, friend,
His ready slaves their various efforts blend,
And, to their lord still eagerly inclined,
Pour the crude trash of a dependent mind.
But let the Muse assign the man his due,
Worth he possess'd, nor were his virtues few: -
He sometimes help'd the injured in their cause;
His power and purse have back'd the failing laws;
He for religion has a due respect,
And all his serious notions, are correct;
Although he pray'd and languish'd for a son,
He grew resign'd when Heaven denied him one;
He never to this quiet mansion sends
Subject unfit, in compliment to friends;
Not so Sir Denys, who would yet protest
He always chose the worthiest and the best:
Not men in trade by various loss brought down,
But those whose glory once amazed the town,
Who their last guinea in their pleasures spent,
Yet never fell so low as to repent:
To these his pity he could largely deal,
Wealth they had known, and therefore want could
Three seats were vacant while Sir Denys reign'd,
And three such favourites their admission gain'd;
These let us view, still more to understand
The moral feelings of Sir Denys Brand.
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