The Parish Register - Part Iii: Burials - Poem by George Crabbe
THERE was, 'tis said, and I believe, a time
When humble Christians died with views sublime;
When all were ready for their faith to bleed,
But few to write or wrangle for their creed;
When lively Faith upheld the sinking heart,
And friends, assured to meet, prepared to part;
When Love felt hope, when Sorrow grew serene,
And all was comfort in the death-bed scene.
Alas! when now the gloomy king they wait,
'Tis weakness yielding to resistless fate;
Like wretched men upon the ocean cast,
They labour hard and struggle to the last;
'Hope against hope,' and wildly gaze around
In search of help that never shall be found:
Nor, till the last strong billow stops the breath,
Will they believe them in the jaws of Death!
When these my Records I reflecting read,
And find what ills these numerous births succeed;
What powerful griefs these nuptial ties attend;
With what regret these painful journeys end;
When from the cradle to the grave I look,
Mine I conceive a melancholy book.
Where now is perfect resignation seen?
Alas! it is not on the village-green: -
I've seldom known, though I have often read,
Of happy peasants on their dying-bed;
Whose looks proclaimed that sunshine of the breast,
That more than hope, that Heaven itself express'd.
What I behold are feverish fits of strife,
'Twixt fears of dying and desire of life:
Those earthly hopes, that to the last endure;
Those fears, that hopes superior fail to cure;
At best a sad submission to the doom,
Which, turning from the danger, lets it come.
Sick lies the man, bewilder'd, lost, afraid,
His spirits vanquish'd, and his strength decay'd;
No hope the friend, the nurse, the doctor lend -
'Call then a priest, and fit him for his end.'
A priest is call'd; 'tis now, alas! too late,
Death enters with him at the cottage-gate;
Or time allow'd--he goes, assured to find
The self-commending, all-confiding mind;
And sighs to hear, what we may justly call
Death's common-place, the train of thought in all.
'True I'm a sinner,' feebly he begins,
'But trust in Mercy to forgive my sins:'
(Such cool confession no past crimes excite!
Such claim on Mercy seems the sinner's right!)
'I know mankind are frail, that God is just,
And pardons those who in his Mercy trust;
We're sorely tempted in a world like this -
All men have done, and I like all, amiss;
But now, if spared, it is my full intent
On all the past to ponder and repent:
Wrongs against me I pardon great and small,
And if I die, I die in peace with all.'
His merits thus and not his sins confess'd,
He speaks his hopes, and leaves to Heaven the rest.
Alas! are these the prospects, dull and cold,
That dying Christians to their priests unfold?
Or mends the prospect when th' enthusiast cries,
'I die assured!' and in a rapture dies?
Ah, where that humble, self-abasing mind,
With that confiding spirit, shall we find;
The mind that, feeling what repentance brings,
Dejection's terrors and Contrition's stings,
Feels then the hope that mounts all care above,
And the pure joy that flows from pardoning love?
Such have I seen in Death, and much deplore,
So many dying--that I see no more:
Lo! now my Records, where I grieve to trace
How Death has triumph'd in so short a space;
Who are the dead, how died they, I relate,
And snatch some portion of their acts from fate.
With Andrew Collett we the year begin,
The blind, fat landlord of the Old Crown Inn, -
Big as his butt, and, for the selfsame use,
To take in stores of strong fermenting juice.
On his huge chair beside the fire he sate,
In revel chief, and umpire in debate;
Each night his string of vulgar tales he told,
When ale was cheap and bachelors were bold:
His heroes all were famous in their days,
Cheats were his boast, and drunkards had his
'One, in three draughts, three mugs of ale took
As mugs were then--the champion of the Crown;
For thrice three days another lived on ale,
And knew no change but that of mild and stale;
Two thirsty soakers watch'd a vessel's side,
When he the tap, with dext'rous hand, applied;
Nor from their seats departed, till they found
That butt was out and heard the mournful sound.'
He praised a poacher, precious child of fun!
Who shot the keeper with his own spring gun;
Nor less the smuggler who th' exciseman tied,
And left him hanging at the birch-wood side,
There to expire;--but one who saw him hang
Cut the good cord--a traitor of the gang.
His own exploits with boastful glee he told,
What ponds he emptied and what pikes he sold;
And how, when blest with sight alert and gay,
The night's amusements kept him through the day.
He sang the praises of those times, when all
'For cards and dice, as for their drink, might
When justice wink'd on every jovial crew,
And ten-pins tumbled in the parson's view.'
He told, when angry wives, provoked to rail,
Or drive a third-day drunkard from his ale,
What were his triumphs, and how great the skill
That won the vex'd virago to his will;
Who raving came;--then talked in milder strain, -
Then wept, then drank, and pledged her spouse
Such were his themes : how knaves o'er laws
Or, when made captives, how they fly from jail;
The young how brave, how subtle were the old:
And oaths attested all that Folly told.
On death like his what name shall we bestow,
So very sudden! yet so very slow?
'Twas slow: --Disease, augmenting year by year,
Show'd the grim king by gradual steps brought near:
'Twas not less sudden; in the night he died,
He drank, he swore, he jested, and he lied;
Thus aiding folly with departing breath: -
'Beware, Lorenzo, the slow-sudden death.'
Next died the Widow Goe, an active dame,
Famed ten miles round, and worthy all her fame;
She lost her husband when their loves were young,
But kept her farm, her credit, and her tongue:
Full thirty years she ruled, with matchless skill,
With guiding judgment and resistless will;
Advice she scorn'd, rebellions she suppress'd,
And sons and servants bow'd at her behest.
Like that great man's, who to his Saviour came,
Were the strong words of this commanding dame; -
'Come,' if she said, they came; if 'Go,' were gone;
And if 'Do this,'--that instant it was done:
Her maidens told she was all eye and ear,
In darkness saw and could at distance hear;
No parish-business in the place could stir,
Without direction or assent from her;
In turn she took each office as it fell,
Knew all their duties and discharged them well;
The lazy vagrants in her presence shook,
And pregnant damsels fear'd her stern rebuke;
She look'd on want with judgment clear and cool,
And felt with reason and bestow'd by rule;
She match'd both sons and daughters to her mind,
And lent them eyes, for Love, she heard, was blind;
Yet ceaseless still she throve, alert, alive,
The working bee, in full or empty hive;
Busy and careful, like that working bee,
No time for love nor tender cares had she;
But when our farmers made their amorous vows,
She talk'd of market-steeds and patent-ploughs.
Not unemploy'd her evenings pass'd away,
Amusement closed, as business waked the day;
When to her toilet's brief concern she ran,
And conversation with her friends began,
Who all were welcome, what they saw, to share;
And joyous neighbours praised her Christmas fare,
That none around might, in their scorn, complain
Of Gossip Goe as greedy in her gain.
Thus long she reign'd, admired, if not approved;
Praised, if not honour'd; fear'd, if not beloved; -
When, as the busy days of Spring drew near,
That call'd for all the forecast of the year;
When lively hope the rising crops surveyed,
And April promised what September paid;
When stray'd her lambs where gorse and greenwood
When rose her grass in richer vales below;
When pleased she look'd on all the smiling land,
And view'd the hinds, who wrought at her command;
(Poultry in groups still follow'd where she went
Then dread o'ercame her,--that her days were spent.
'Bless me! I die, and not a warning giv'n, -
With MUCH to do on Earth, and ALL for Heav'n? -
No reparation for my soul's affairs,
No leave petition'd for the barn's repairs;
Accounts perplex'd, my interest yet unpaid,
My mind unsettled, and my will unmade; -
A lawyer haste, and in your way, a priest;
And let me die in one good work at least.'
She spake, and, trembling, dropp'd upon her knees,
Heaven in her eye and in her hand her keys;
And still the more she found her life decay,
With greater force she grasp'd those signs of sway:
Then fell and died!--In haste her sons drew near,
And dropp'd, in haste, the tributary tear;
Then from th' adhering clasp the keys unbound,
And consolation for their sorrows found.
Death has his infant-train; his bony arm
Strikes from the baby-cheek the rosy charm;
The brightest eye his glazing film makes dim,
And his cold touch sets fast the lithest limb:
He seized the sick'ning boy to Gerard lent,
When three days' life, in feeble cries, were spent;
In pain brought forth, those painful hours to stay,
To breathe in pain and sigh its soul away!
'But why thus lent, if thus recall'd again,
To cause and feel, to live and die in pain?'
Or rather say, Why grevious these appear,
If all it pays for Heaven's eternal year;
If these sad sobs and piteous sighs secure
Delights that live, when worlds no more endure?
The sister-spirit long may lodge below,
And pains from nature, pains from reason, know:
Through all the common ills of life may run,
By hope perverted and by love undone;
A wife's distress, a mother's pangs, may dread,
And widow-tears, in bitter anguish, shed;
May at old age arrive through numerous harms,
With children's children in those feeble arms:
Nor till by years of want and grief oppress'd
Shall the sad spirit flee and be at rest!
Yet happier therefore shall we deem the boy,
Secured from anxious care and dangerous joy?
Not so! for then would Love Divine in vain
Send all the burthens weary men sustain;
All that now curb the passions when they rage,
The checks of youth and the regrets of age;
All that now bid us hope, believe, endure,
Our sorrow's comfort and our vice's cure;
All that for Heaven's high joys the spirits train,
And charity, the crown of all, were vain.
Say, will you call the breathless infant blest,
Because no cares the silent grave molest?
So would you deem the nursling from the wing
Untimely thrust and never train'd to sing;
But far more blest the bird whose grateful voice
Sings its own joy and makes the woods rejoice,
Though, while untaught, ere yet he charm'd the ear,
Hard were his trials and his pains severe!
Next died the LADY who yon Hall possess'd,
And here they brought her noble bones to rest.
In Town she dwelt;--forsaken stood the Hall:
Worms ate the floors, the tap'stry fled the wall:
No fire the kitchen's cheerless grate display'd;
No cheerful light the long-closed sash convey'd:
The crawling worm, that turns a summer fly,
Here spun his shroud and laid him up to die
The winter-death:- upon the bed of state,
The bat shrill shrieking woo'd his flickering mate;
To empty rooms the curious came no more;
From empty cellars turn'd the angry poor,
And surly beggars cursed the ever-bolted door.
To one small room the steward found his way
Where tenants follow'd to complain and pay;
Yet no complaint before the Lady came,
The feeling servant spared the feeble dame;
Who saw her farms with his observing eyes,
And answer'd all requests with his replies; -
She came not down, her falling groves to view;
Why should she know, what one so faithful knew?
Why come, from many clamorous tongues to hear,
What one so just might whisper in her ear?
Her oaks or acres, why with care explore;
Why learn the wants, the sufferings of the poor;
When one so knowing all their worth could trace,
And one so piteous govern'd in her place?
Lo! now, what dismal Sons of Darkness come,
To bear this Daughter of Indulgence home;
Tragedians all, and well-arranged in black!
Who nature, feeling, force, expression lack;
Who cause no tear, but gloomily pass by,
And shake their sables in the wearied eye,
That turns disgusted from the pompous scene,
Proud without grandeur, with profusion, mean
The tear for kindness past affection owes;
For worth deceased the sigh from reason flows
E'en well feign'd passion for our sorrows call,
And real tears for mimic miseries fall:
But this poor farce has neither truth nor art,
To please the fancy or to touch the heart;
Unlike the darkness of the sky, that pours
On the dry ground its fertilizing showers;
Unlike to that which strikes the soul with dread,
When thunders roar and forky fires are shed;
Dark but not awful, dismal but yet mean,
With anxious bustle moves the cumbrous scene;
Presents no objects tender or profound,
But spreads its cold unmeaning gloom around.
When woes are feign'd, how ill such forms
And oh! how needless, when the woe's sincere.
Slow to the vault they come, with heavy tread,
Bending beneath the Lady and her lead;
A case of elm surrounds that ponderous chest,
Close on that case the crimson velvet's press'd;
Ungenerous this, that to the worm denies,
With niggard-caution, his appointed prize;
For now, ere yet he works his tedious way,
Through cloth and wood and metal to his prey,
That prey dissolving shall a mass remain,
That fancy loathes and worms themselves disdain.
But see! the master-mourner makes his way,
To end his office for the coffin'd clay;
Pleased that our rustic men and maids behold
His plate like silver, and his studs like gold,
As they approach to spell the age, the name,
And all the titles of the illustrious dame.-
This as (my duty done) some scholar read,
A Village-father look'd disdain and said:
'Away, my friends! why take such pains to know
What some brave marble soon in church shall show?
Where not alone her gracious name shall stand,
But how she lived--the blessing of the land;
How much we all deplored the noble dead,
What groans we utter'd and what tears we shed;
Tears, true as those which in the sleepy eyes
Of weeping cherubs on the stone shall rise;
Tears, true as those which, ere she found her
The noble Lady to our sorrows gave.'
Down by the church-way walk, and where the brook
Winds round the chancel like a shepherd's crook;
In that small house, with those green pales before,
Where jasmine trails on either side the door;
Where those dark shrubs, that now grow wild at
Were clipped in form and tantalised with skill;
Where cockles blanch'd and pebbles neatly spread,
Form'd shining borders for the larkspurs' bed;
There lived a Lady, wise, austere, and nice,
Who show'd her virtue by her scorn of vice;
In the dear fashions of her youth she dress'd,
A pea-green Joseph was her favourite vest;
Erect she stood, she walk'd with stately mien,
Tight was her length of stays, and she was tall and
There long she lived in maiden-state immured,
From looks of love and treacherous man secured;
Though evil fame--(but that was long before)
Had blown her dubious blast at Catherine's door:
A Captain thither, rich from India came,
And though a cousin call'd, it touch'd her fame:
Her annual stipend rose from his behest,
And all the long-prized treasures she possess'd:-
If aught like joy awhile appear'd to stay
In that stern face, and chase those frowns away,
'Twas when her treasures she disposed for view
And heard the praises to their splendour due;
Silks beyond price, so rich, they'd stand alone,
And diamonds blazing on the buckled zone;
Rows of rare pearls by curious workmen set,
And bracelets fair in box of glossy jet;
Bright polish'd amber precious from its size,
Or forms the fairest fancy could devise:
Her drawers of cedar, shut with secret springs,
Conceal'd the watch of gold and rubied rings;
Letters, long proofs of love, and verses fine
Round the pink'd rims of crisped Valentine.
Her china-closet, cause of daily care,
For woman's wonder held her pencill'd ware;
That pictured wealth of China and Japan,
Like its cold mistress, shunn'd the eye of man.
Her neat small room, adorn'd with maiden-taste,
A clipp'd French puppy, first of favourites,
A parrot next, but dead and stuff'd with art;
(For Poll, when living, lost the Lady's heart,
And then his life; for he was heard to speak
Such frightful words as tinged his Lady's cheek
Unhappy bird! who had no power to prove,
Save by such speech, his gratitude and love.
A gray old cat his whiskers lick'd beside;
A type of sadness in the house of pride.
The polish'd surface of an India chest,
A glassy globe, in frame of ivory, press'd;
Where swam two finny creatures; one of gold,
Of silver one; both beauteous to behold:-
All these were form'd the guiding taste to suit;
The beast well-manner'd and the fishes mute.
A widow'd Aunt was there, compell'd by need
The nymph to flatter and her tribe to feed;
Who veiling well her scorn, endured the clog,
Mute as the fish and fawning as the dog.
As years increased, these treasures, her
Arose in value in their owner's sight:
A miser knows that, view it as he will,
A guinea kept is but a guinea still;
And so he puts it to its proper use,
That something more this guinea may produce;
But silks and rings, in the possessor's eyes,
The oft'ner seen, the more in value rise,
And thus are wisely hoarded to bestow
The kind of pleasure that with years will grow.
But what avail'd their worth--if worth had they
In the sad summer of her slow decay?
Then we beheld her turn an anxious look
From trunks and chests, and fix it on her book, -
A rich-bound Book of Prayer the Captain gave,
(Some Princess had it, or was said to have
And then once more on all her stores look round,
And draw a sigh so piteous and profound,
That told, 'Alas! how hard from these to part,
And for new hopes and habits form the heart!
What shall I do (she cried,) my peace of mind
To gain in dying, and to die resign'd?'
'Hear,' we return'd;--'these baubles cast aside,
Nor give thy God a rival in thy pride;
Thy closets shut, and ope thy kitchen's door;
There own thy failings, here invite the poor;
A friend of Mammon let thy bounty make;
For widows' prayers, thy vanities forsake;
And let the hungry of thy pride partake:
Then shall thy inward eye with joy survey
The angel Mercy tempering Death's delay!'
Alas! 'twas hard; the treasures still had
Hope still its flattery, sickness its alarms;
Still was the same unsettled, clouded view,
And the same plaintive cry, 'What shall I do?'
Nor change appear'd; for when her race was run,
Doubtful we all exclaim'd, 'What has been done?'
Apart she lived, and still she lies alone;
Yon earthy heap awaits the flattering stone
On which invention shall be long employ'd,
To show the various worth of Catherine Lloyd.
Next to these ladies, but in nought allied,
A noble Peasant, Isaac Ashford, died.
Noble he was, contemning all things mean,
His truth unquestion'd and his soul serene:
Of no man's presence Isaac felt afraid;
At no man's question Isaac looked dismay'd:
Shame knew him not, he dreaded no disgrace;
Truth, simple truth, was written in his face:
Yet while the serious thought his soul approved,
Cheerful he seem'd, and gentleness he loved;
To bliss domestic he his heart resign'd,
And with the firmest had the fondest mind;
Were others joyful, he look'd smiling on,
And gave allowance where he needed none;
Good he refused with future ill to buy,
Nor knew a joy that caused reflection's sigh;
A friend to virtue, his unclouded breast
No envy stung, no jealousy distress'd;
(Bane of the poor! it wounds their weaker mind,
To miss one favour, which their neighbours find
Yet far was he from stoic pride removed;
He felt humanely, and he warmly loved:
I mark'd his action, when his infant died,
And his old neighbour for offence was tried;
The still tears, stealing down that furrow'd cheek,
Spoke pity, plainer than the tongue can speak.
If pride were his, 'twas not their vulgar pride,
Who, in their base contempt, the great deride;
Nor pride in learning,--though my Clerk agreed,
If fate should call him, Ashford might succeed;
Nor pride in rustic skill, although we knew
None his superior, and his equals few:-
But if that spirit in his soul had place,
It was the jealous pride that shuns disgrace;
A pride in honest fame, by virtue gain'd,
In sturdy boys to virtuous labours train'd;
Pride in the power that guards his country's coast,
And all that Englishmen enjoy and boast;
Pride in a life that slander's tongue defied, -
In fact a noble passion, misnamed Pride.
He had no party's rage, no sect'ry's whim;
Christian and countrymen was all with him:
True to his church he came; no Sunday-shower
Kept him at home in that important hour;
Nor his firm feet could one persuading sect,
By the strong glare of their new light direct:-
'On hope, in mine own sober light, I gaze,
But should be blind, and lose it, in your blaze.'
In times severe, when many a sturdy swain
Felt it his pride, his comfort to complain;
Isaac their wants would soothe, his own would hide,
And feel in that his comfort and his pride.
At length he found when seventy years were run,
His strength departed, and his labour done;
When he, save honest fame, retain'd no more,
But lost his wife, and saw his children poor:
'Twas then a spark of--say not discontent -
Struck on his mind, and thus he gave it vent:-
'Kind are your laws ('tis not to be denied,)
That in yon House for ruin'd age provide,
And they are just;--when young we give you all,
And for assistance in our weakness call.-
Why then this proud reluctance to be fed,
To join your poor, and eat the parish bread?
But yet I linger, loth with him to feed,
Who gains his plenty by the sons of need;
He who, by contract, all your paupers took,
And gauges stomachs with an anxious look:
On some old master I could well depend;
See him with joy and thank him as a friend;
But ill on him who doles the day's supply,
And counts our chances who at night may die:
Yet help me, Heav'n! and let me not complain
Of what I suffer, but my fate sustain.'
Such were his thoughts, and so resign'd he grew;
Daily he placed the Workhouse in his view!
But came not there, for sudden was his fate,
He dropp'd, expiring, at his cottage gate.
I feel his absence in the hours of prayer,
And view his seat, and sigh for Isaac there:
I see no more these white locks thinly spread
Round the bald polish of that honour'd head;
No more that awful glance on playful wight,
Compell'd to kneel and tremble at the sight,
To fold his fingers, all in dread the while,
Till Mister Ashford soften'd to a smile;
No more that meek and suppliant look in prayer,
Nor the pure faith (to give it force), are there:
But he is blest, and I lament no more
A wise good man contented to be poor.
Then died a Rambler: not the one who sails,
And trucks, for female favours, beads and nails;
Not one who posts from place to place--of men
And manners treating with a flying pen;
Not he who climbs, for prospects, Snowdon's height,
And chides the clouds that intercept the sight;
No curious shell, rare plant, or brilliant spar,
Enticed our traveller from his house so far;
But all the reason by himself assign'd
For so much rambling, was a restless mind;
As on, from place to place, without intent,
Without reflection, Robin Dingley went.
Not thus by nature:- never man was found
Less prone to wander from his parish bound:
Claudian's Old Man, to whom all scenes were new,
Save those where he and where his apples grew,
Resembled Robin, who around would look,
And his horizon for the earth's mistook.
To this poor swain a keen Attorney came; -
'I give thee joy, good fellow! on thy name;
The rich old Dingley's dead;--no child has he,
Nor wife, nor will; his ALL is left for thee:
To be his fortune's heir thy claim is good;
Thou hast the name, and we will prove the blood.'
The claim was made; 'twas tried,--it would not
They proved the blood but were refused the land.
Assured of wealth, this man of simple heart
To every friend had predisposed a part;
His wife had hopes indulged of various kind;
The three Miss Dingleys had their school assign'd,
Masters were sought for what they each required,
And books were bought and harpsichords were hired;
So high was hope:- the failure touched his brain,
And Robin never was himself again;
Yet he no wrath, no angry wish express'd,
But tried, in vain, to labour or to rest;
Then cast his bundle on his back, and went
He knew not whither, nor for what intent.
Years fled;--of Robin all remembrance past,
When home he wandered in his rags at last:
A sailor's jacket on his limbs was thrown,
A sailor's story he had made his own;
Had suffer'd battles, prisons, tempests, storms,
Encountering death in all its ugliest forms:
His cheeks were haggard, hollow was his eye,
Where madness lurk'd, conceal'd in misery;
Want, and th' ungentle world, had taught a part,
And prompted cunning to that simple heart:
'He now bethought him, he would roam no more
But live at home and labour as before.'
Here clothed and fed, no sooner he began
To round and redden, than away he ran;
His wife was dead, their children past his aid,
So, unmolested, from his home he stray'd:
Six years elapsed, when, worn with want and pain.
Came Robin, wrapt in all his rags again:
We chide, we pity;--placed among our poor,
He fed again, and was a man once more.
As when a gaunt and hungry fox is found,
Entrapp'd alive in some rich hunter's ground;
Fed for the field, although each day's a feast,
FATTEN you may, but never TAME the beast;
A house protects him, savoury viands sustain:-
But loose his neck and off he goes again:
So stole our Vagrant from his warm retreat,
To rove a prowler and be deemed a cheat.
Hard was his fare; for him at length we saw
In cart convey'd and laid supine on straw.
His feeble voice now spoke a sinking heart;
His groans now told the motions of the cart:
And when it stopp'd, he tried in vain to stand;
Closed was his eye, and clench'd his clammy hand:
Life ebb'd apace, and our best aid no more
Could his weak sense or dying heart restore:
But now he fell, a victim to the snare
That vile attorneys for the weak prepare;
They who when profit or resentment call,
Heed not the groaning victim they enthrall.
Then died lamented in the strength of life,
A valued MOTHER and a faithful WIFE;
Call'd not away when time had loosed each hold
On the fond heart, and each desire grew cold;
But when, to all that knit us to our kind,
She felt fast-bound, as charity can bind; -
Not when the ills of age, its pain, its care,
The drooping spirit for its fate prepare;
And, each affection failing, leaves the heart
Loosed from life's charm, and willing to depart;
But all her ties the strong invader broke,
In all their strength, by one tremendous stroke!
Sudden and swift the eager pest came on,
And terror grew, till every hope was gone;
Still those around appear'd for hope to seek!
But view'd the sick and were afraid to speak.
Slowly they bore, with solemn step, the dead;
When grief grew loud and bitter tears were shed,
My part began; a crowd drew near the place,
Awe in each eye, alarm in every face:
So swift the ill, and of so fierce a kind,
That fear with pity mingled in each mind;
Friends with the husband came their griefs to
For good-man Frankford was to all a friend.
The last-born boy they held above the bier,
He knew not grief, but cries express'd his fear;
Each different age and sex reveal'd its pain,
In now a louder, now a lower strain;
While the meek father listening to their tones,
Swell'd the full cadence of the grief by groans.
The elder sister strove her pangs to hide,
And soothing words to younger minds applied'.
'Be still, be patient;' oft she strove to stay;
But fail'd as oft, and weeping turn'd away.
Curious and sad, upon the fresh-dug hill
The village lads stood melancholy still;
And idle children, wandering to and fro.
As Nature guided, took the tone of woe.
Arrived at home, how then they gazed around
On every place--where she no more was found; -
The seat at table she was wont to fill;
The fire-side chair, still set, but vacant still;
The garden-walks, a labour all her own;
The latticed bower, with trailing shrubs o'ergrown,
The Sunday-pew she fill'd with all her race, -
Each place of hers, was now a sacred place
That, while it call'd up sorrows in the eyes,
Pierced the full heart and forced them still to
Oh sacred sorrow! by whom souls are tried,
Sent not to punish mortals, but to guide;
If thou art mine (and who shall proudly dare
To tell his Maker, he has had a share!)
Still let me feel for what thy pangs are sent,
And be my guide, and not my punishment!
Of Leah Cousins next the name appears,
With honours crown'd and blest with length of
Save that she lived to feel, in life's decay,
The pleasure die, the honours drop away;
A matron she, whom every village-wife
View'd as the help and guardian of her life,
Fathers and sons, indebted to her aid,
Respect to her and her profession paid;
Who in the house of plenty largely fed,
Yet took her station at the pauper's bed;
Nor from that duty could be bribed again,
While fear or danger urged her to remain:
In her experience all her friends relied.
Heaven was her help and nature was her guide.
Thus Leah lived; long trusted, much caress'd,
Till a Town-Dame a youthful farmer bless'd;
A gay vain bride, who would example give
To that poor village where she deign'd to live;
Some few months past, she sent, in hour of need,
For Doctor Glibb, who came with wond'rous speed,
Two days he waited, all his art applied,
To save the mother when her infant died: -
''Twas well I came,' at last he deign'd to say;
''Twas wondrous well;'--and proudly rode away.
The news ran round;--'How vast the Doctor's
He saved the Lady in the trying hour;
Saved her from death, when she was dead to hope,
And her fond husband had resign'd her up:
So all, like her, may evil fate defy,
If Doctor Glibb, with saving hand, be nigh.
Fame (now his friend), fear, novelty, and whim,
And fashion, sent the varying sex to him:
From this, contention in the village rose;
And these the Dame espoused; the Doctor those,
The wealthier part to him and science went;
With luck and her the poor remain'd content.
The Matron sigh'd; for she was vex'd at heart,
With so much profit, so much fame, to part:
'So long successful in my art,' she cried,
'And this proud man, so young and so untried!'
'Nay,' said the Doctor, 'dare you trust your wives,
The joy, the pride, the solace of your lives,
To one who acts and knows no reason why,
But trusts, poor hag! to luck for an ally? -
Who, on experience, can her claims advance,
And own the powers of accident and chance?
A whining dame, who prays in danger's view,
(A proof she knows not what beside to do
What's her experience? In the time that's gone,
Blundering she wrought, and still she blunders on:-
And what is Nature? One who acts in aid
Of gossips half asleep and half afraid:
With such allies I scorn my fame to blend,
Skill is my luck and courage is my friend:
No slave to Nature, 'tis my chief delight
To win my way and act in her despite:-
Trust then my art, that, in itself complete,
Needs no assistance and fears no defeat.'
Warm'd by her well-spiced ale and aiding pipe,
The angry Matron grew for contest ripe.
'Can you,' she said, 'ungrateful and unjust,
Before experience, ostentation trust!
What is your hazard, foolish daughters, tell?
If safe, you're certain; if secure, you're well:
That I have luck must friend and foe confess,
And what's good judgment but a lucky guess?
He boasts, but what he can do: --will you run
From me, your friend! who, all lie boasts, have
By proud and learned words his powers are known;
By healthy boys and handsome girls my own:
Wives! fathers! children! by my help you live;
Has this pale Doctor more than life to give?
No stunted cripple hops the village round;
Your hands are active and your heads are sound;
My lads are all your fields and flocks require;
My lasses all those sturdy lads admire.
Can this proud leech, with all his boasted skill,
Amend the soul or body, wit or will?
Does he for courts the sons of farmers frame,
Or make the daughter differ from the dame?
Or, whom he brings into this world of woe,
Prepares he them their part to undergo?
If not, this stranger from your doors repel,
And be content to BE and to be WELL.'
She spake; but, ah! with words too strong and
Her warmth offended, and her truth was vain:
The many left her, and the friendly few,
If never colder, yet they older grew;
Till, unemploy'd, she felt her spirits droop,
And took, insidious aid! th' inspiring cup;
Grew poor and peevish as her powers decay'd,
And propp'd the tottering frame with stronger aid,
Then died! I saw our careful swains convey,
From this our changeful world, the Matron's clay,
Who to this world, at least, with equal care,
Brought them its changes, good and ill, to share.
Now to his grave was Roger Cuff conveyed,
And strong resentment's lingering spirit laid.
Shipwreck'd in youth, he home return'd, and found
His brethren three--and thrice they wish'd him
'Is this a landsman's love? Be certain then,
'We part for ever!'--and they cried, 'Amen!'
His words were truth's:- Some forty summers
His brethren died; his kin supposed him dead:
Three nephews these, one sprightly niece, and one,
Less near in blood--they call'd him surly John;
He work'd in woods apart from all his kind,
Fierce were his looks and moody was his mind.
For home the sailor now began to sigh:-
'The dogs are dead, and I'll return and die;
When all I have, my gains, in years of care,
The younger Cuffs with kinder souls shall share -
Yet hold! I'm rich;--with one consent they'll say,
'You're welcome, Uncle, as the flowers in May.'
No; I'll disguise me, be in tatters dress'd,
And best befriend the lads who treat me best.'
Now all his kindred,--neither rich nor poor, -
Kept the wolf want some distance from the door.
In piteous plight he knock'd at George's gate,
And begg'd for aid, as he described his state:-
But stern was George;--'Let them who had thee
Help thee to drag thy weaken'd frame along;
To us a stranger, while your limbs would move,
From us depart, and try a stranger's love:-
'Ha! dost thou murmur?'--for, in Roger's throat,
Was 'Rascal!' rising with disdainful note.
To pious James he then his prayer address'd; -
'Good-lack,' quoth James, 'thy sorrows pierce my
And, had I wealth, as have my brethren twain,
One board should feed us and one roof contain:
But plead I will thy cause, and I will pray:
And so farewell! Heaven help thee on thy way!'
'Scoundrel!' said Roger (but apart);--and told
His case to Peter;--Peter too was cold;
'The rates are high; we have a-many poor;
But I will think,'--he said, and shut the door.
Then the gay niece the seeming pauper press'd; -
'Turn, Nancy, turn, and view this form distress'd:
Akin to thine is this declining frame,
And this poor beggar claims an Uncle's name.'
'Avaunt! begone!' the courteous maiden said,
'Thou vile impostor! Uncle Roger's dead:
I hate thee, beast; thy look my spirit shocks;
Oh! that I saw thee starving in the stocks!'
'My gentle niece!' he said--and sought the wood,
'I hunger, fellow; prithee, give me food!'
'Give! am I rich? This hatchet take, and try
Thy proper strength, nor give those limbs the lie;
Work, feed thyself, to thine own powers appeal,
Nor whine out woes thine own right-hand can heal;
And while that hand is thine, and thine a leg,
Scorn of the proud or of the base to beg.'
'Come, surly John, thy wealthy kinsman view,'
Old Roger said;--'thy words are brave and true;
Come, live with me: we'll vex those scoundrel-
And that prim shrew shall, envying, hear our joys.
Tobacco's glorious fume all day we'll share,
With beef and brandy kill all kinds of care;
We'll beer and biscuit on our table heap,
And rail at rascals, till we fall asleep.'
Such was their life; but when the woodman died,
His grieving kin for Roger's smiles applied -
In vain; he shut, with stern rebuke, the door,
And dying, built a refuge for the poor,
With this restriction, That no Cuff should share
One meal, or shelter for one moment there.
My Record ends:- But hark! e'en now I hear
The bell of death, and know not whose to fear:
Our farmers all, and all our hinds were well;
In no man's cottage danger seem'd to dwell: -
Yet death of man proclaim these heavy chimes,
For thrice they sound, with pausing space, three
'Go; of my Sexton seek, Whose days are sped? -
What! he, himself!- and is old Dibble dead?'
His eightieth year he reach'd, still undecay d,
And rectors five to one close vault convey'd:-
But he is gone; his care and skill I lose,
And gain a mournful subject for my Muse:
His masters lost, he'd oft in turn deplore,
And kindly add,--'Heaven grant, I lose no more!'
Yet, while he spake, a sly and pleasant glance
Appear'd at variance with his complaisance:
For, as he told their fate and varying worth,
He archly look'd,--'I yet may bear thee forth.'
'When first'--(he so began)--'my trade I plied,
Good master Addle was the parish-guide;
His clerk and sexton, I beheld with fear,
His stride majestic, and his frown severe;
A noble pillar of the church he stood,
Adorn'd with college-gown and parish hood:
Then as he paced the hallow'd aisles about,
He fill'd the seven-fold surplice fairly out!
But in his pulpit wearied down with prayer,
He sat and seem'd as in his study's chair;
For while the anthem swell'd, and when it ceased,
Th'expecting people view'd their slumbering priest;
Who, dozing, died.--Our Parson Peele was next;
'I will not spare you,' was his favourite text;
Nor did he spare, but raised them many a pound;
E'en me he mulct for my poor rood of ground;
Yet cared he nought, but with a gibing speech,
'What should I do,' quoth he, 'but what I preach?'
His piercing jokes (and he'd a plenteous store)
Were daily offer'd both to rich and poor;
His scorn, his love, in playful words he spoke;
His pity, praise, and promise, were a joke:
But though so young and blest with spirits high,
He died as grave as any judge could die:
The strong attack subdued his lively powers, -
His was the grave, and Doctor Grandspear ours.
'Then were there golden times the village round;
In his abundance all appear'd t'abound;
Liberal and rich, a plenteous board he spread,
E'en cool Dissenters at his table fed;
Who wish'd and hoped,--and thought a man so kind
A way to Heaven, though not their own, might find.
To them, to all, he was polite and free,
Kind to the poor, and, ah! most kind to me!
'Ralph,' would he say, 'Ralph Dibble, thou art old;
That doublet fit, 'twill keep thee from the cold:
How does my sexton?- What! the times are hard;
Drive that stout pig, and pen him in thy yard.'
But most, his rev'rence loved a mirthful jest:-
'Thy coat is thin; why, man, thou'rt BARELY dress'd
It's worn to th' thread: but I have nappy beer;
Clap that within, and see how they will wear!'
'Gay days were these; but they were quickly
When first he came, we found he couldn't last:
A whoreson cough (and at the fall of leaf)
Upset him quite;--but what's the gain of grief?
'Then came the Author-Rector: his delight
Was all in books; to read them or to write:
Women and men he strove alike to shun,
And hurried homeward when his tasks were done;
Courteous enough, but careless what he said,
For points of learning he reserved his head;
And when addressing either poor or rich,
He knew no better than his cassock which:
He, like an osier, was of pliant kind,
Erect by nature, but to bend inclined;
Not like a creeper falling to the ground,
Or meanly catching on the neighbours round:
Careless was he of surplice, hood, and band, -
And kindly took them as they came to hand,
Nor, like the doctor, wore a world of hat,
As if he sought for dignity in that:
He talk'd, he gave, but not with cautious rules;
Nor turn'd from gipsies, vagabonds, or fools;
It was his nature, but they thought it whim,
And so our beaux and beauties turn'd from him.
Of questions, much he wrote, profound and dark, -
How spake the serpent, and where stopp'd the ark;
From what far land the queen of Sheba came;
Who Salem's Priest, and what his father's name;
He made the Song of Songs its mysteries yield,
And Revelations to the world reveal'd.
He sleeps i' the aisle,--but not a stone records
His name or fame, his actions or his words:
And truth, your reverence, when I look around,
And mark the tombs in our sepulchral ground
(Though dare I not of one man's hope to doubt),
I'd join the party who repose without.
'Next came a Youth from Cambridge, and in truth
He was a sober and a comely youth;
He blush'd in meekness as a modest man,
And gain'd attention ere his task began;
When preaching, seldom ventured on reproof,
But touch'd his neighbours tenderly enough.
Him, in his youth, a clamorous sect assail'd,
Advised and censured, flatter'd,--and prevail'd.-
Then did he much his sober hearers vex,
Confound the simple, and the sad perplex;
To a new style his reverence rashly took;
Loud grew his voice, to threat'ning swell'd his
Above, below, on either side, he gazed,
Amazing all, and most himself amazed:
No more he read his preachments pure and plain,
But launch'd outright, and rose and sank again:
At times he smiled in scorn, at times he wept,
And such sad coil with words of vengeance kept,
That our blest sleepers started as they slept.
'Conviction comes like light'ning,' he would
'In vain you seek it, and in vain you fly;
'Tis like the rushing of the mighty wind,
Unseen its progress, but its power you find;
It strikes the child ere yet its reason wakes;
His reason fled, the ancient sire it shakes;
The proud, learn'd man, and him who loves to know
How and from whence those gusts of grace will blow,
It shuns,--but sinners in their way impedes,
And sots and harlots visits in their deeds:
Of faith and penance it supplies the place;
Assures the vilest that they live by grace,
And, without running, makes them win the race.'
'Such was the doctrine our young prophet taught;
And here conviction, there confusion wrought;
When his thin cheek assumed a deadly hue,
And all the rose to one small spot withdrew,
They call'd it hectic; 'twas a fiery flush,
More fix'd and deeper than the maiden blush;
His paler lips the pearly teeth disclosed,
And lab'ring lungs the length'ning speech opposed.
No more his span-girth shanks and quiv'ring thighs
Upheld a body of the smaller size;
But down he sank upon his dying bed,
And gloomy crotchets fill'd his wandering head.
'Spite of my faith, all-saving faith,' he cried,
'I fear of worldly works the wicked pride;
Poor as I am, degraded, abject, blind,
The good I've wrought still rankles in my mind;
My alms-deeds all, and every deed I've done;
My moral-rags defile me every one;
It should not be:- what say'st thou! tell me,
Quoth I, 'Your reverence, I believe, you're safe;
Your faith's your prop, nor have you pass'd such
In life's good-works as swell them to a crime.
If I of pardon for my sins were sure,
About my goodness I would rest secure.'
'Such was his end; and mine approaches fast;
I've seen my best of preachers,--and my last,' -
He bow'd, and archly smiled at what he said,
Civil but sly:- 'And is old Dibble dead?'
Yes; he is gone: and WE are going all;
Like flowers we wither, and like leaves we fall; -
Here, with an infant, joyful sponsors come,
Then bear the new-made Christian to its home:
A few short years and we behold him stand
To ask a blessing, with his bride in hand:
A few, still seeming shorter, and we hear
His widow weeping at her husband's bier:-
Thus, as the months succeed, shall infants take
Their names; thus parents shall the child forsake;
Thus brides again and bridegrooms blithe shall
By love or law compell'd their vows to seal,
Ere I again, or one like me, explore
These simple Annals of the VILLAGE POOR.
Comments about The Parish Register - Part Iii: Burials by George Crabbe
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