George Crabbe(24 December 1754 - 3 February 1832 / Aldeburgh, Suffulk)
- by George Crabbe37
Females there are of unsuspicious mind, Easy and soft and credulous and kind; Who, when offended for the twentieth time, Will hear the offender and forgive the crime: And there are others whom, like these to cheat, Asks but the humblest efforts of deceit; But they, once injured, feel a strong disdain, And, seldom pardoning, never trust again; Urged by religion, they forgive--but yet Guard the warm heart, and never more forget: Those are like wax--apply them to the fire, Melting, they take th' impressions you desire; Easy to mould and fashion as you please, And again moulded with an equal ease: Like smelted iron these the forms retain, But once impress'd, will never melt again. A busy port a serious Merchant made His chosen place to recommence his trade; And brought his Lady, who, their children dead, Their native seat of recent sorrow fled: The husband duly on the quay was seen, The wife at home became at length serene; There in short time the social couple grew With all acquainted, friendly with a few; When the good lady, by disease assail'd, In vain resisted--hope and science fail'd: Then spoke the female friends, by pity led, 'Poor merchant Paul! what think ye? will he wed? A quiet, easy, kind, religious man, Thus can he rest?--I wonder if he can.' He too, as grief subsided in his mind, Gave place to notions of congenial kind: Grave was the man, as we have told before; His years were forty--he might pass for more; Composed his features were, his stature low, His air important, and his motion slow: His dress became him, it was neat and plain, The colour purple, and without a stain; His words were few, and special was his care In simplest terms his purpose to declare; A man more civil, sober, and discreet, More grave and corteous, you could seldom meet: Though frugal he, yet sumptuous was his board, As if to prove how much he could afford; For though reserved himself, he loved to see His table plenteous, and his neighbours free: Among these friends he sat in solemn style, And rarely soften'd to a sober smile: For this, observant friends their reason gave - 'Concerns so vast would make the idlest grave; And for such man to be of language free, Would seem incongruous as a singing tree: Trees have their music, but the birds they shield - The pleasing tribute for protection yield; Each ample tree the tuneful choir defends, As this rich merchant cheers his happy friends!' In the same town it was his chance to meet A gentle Lady, with a mind discreet; Neither in life's decline, nor bloom of youth, One famed for maiden modesty and truth: By nature cool, in pious habits bred, She look'd on lovers with a virgin's dread: Deceivers, rakes, and libertines were they, And harmless beauty their pursuit and prey; As bad as giants in the ancient times Were modern lovers, and the same their crimes: Soon as she heard of her all-conquering charms, At once she fled to her defensive arms; Conn'd o'er the tales her maiden aunt had told, And, statue like, was motionless and cold: From prayer of love, like that Pygmalion pray'd, Ere the hard stone became the yielding maid, A different change in this chaste nymph ensued, And turn'd to stone the breathing flesh and blood: Whatever youth described his wounded heart, 'He came to rob her, and she scorn'd his art; And who of raptures once presumed to speak, Told listening maids he thought them fond and weak; But should a worthy man his hopes display In few plain words, and beg a yes or nay, He would deserve an answer just and plain, Since adulation only moved disdain - Sir, if my friends object not, come again.' Hence, our grave Lover, though he liked the
face, Praised not a feature--dwelt not on a grace; But in the simplest terms declared his state: 'A widow'd man, who wish'd a virtuous mate; Who fear'd neglect, and was compell'd to trust Dependants wasteful, idle, or unjust; Or should they not the trusted stores destroy, At best, they could not help him to enjoy; But with her person and her prudence bless'd, His acts would prosper, and his soul have rest: Would she be his?'--'Why, that was much to say; She would consider; he awhile might stay: She liked his manners, and believed his word; He did not flatter, flattery she abhorr'd: It was her happy lot in peace to dwell - Would change make better what was now so well? But she would ponder.' 'This,' he said, 'was
kind;' And begg'd to know 'when she had fix'd her mind. Romantic maidens would have scorn'd the air, And the cool prudence of a mind so fair; But well it pleased this wiser maid to find Her own mild virtues in her lover's mind. His worldly wealth she sought, and quickly grew Pleased with her search, and happy in the view Of vessels freighted with abundant stores, Of rooms whose treasures press'd the groaning
floors; And he of clerks and servants could display A little army on a public day: Was this a man like needy bard to speak Of balmy lip, bright eye, or rosy cheek? The sum appointed for her widow'd state, Fix'd by her friend, excited no debate; Then the kind lady gave her hand and heart, And, never finding, never dealt with art: In his engagements she had no concern; He taught her not, nor had she wish to learn; On him in all occasions she relied, His word her surety, and his worth her pride. When ship was launch'd, and merchant Paul had
share, A bounteous feast became the lady's care; Who then her entry to the dinner made, In costly raiment, and with kind parade. Call'd by this duty on a certain day, And robed to grace it in a rich array, Forth from her room, with measured step she came, Proud of th' event, and stately look'd the dame; The husband met her at his study door - 'This way, my love--one moment, and no more: A trifling business--you will understand - The law requires that you affix your hand; But first attend, and you shall learn the cause Why forms like these have been prescribed by laws.' Then from his chair a man in black arose, And with much quickness hurried off his prose - That 'Ellen Paul, the wife, and so forth, freed From all control, her own the act and deed, And forasmuch'--said she, 'I've no distrust, For he that asks it is discreet and just; Our friends are waiting--where am I to sign? - There?--Now be ready when we meet to dine.' This said, she hurried off in great delight, The ship was launch'd, and joyful was the night. Now, says the reader, and in much disdain, This serious Merchant was a rogue in grain; A treacherous wretch, an artful sober knave, And ten times worse for manners cool and grave: And she devoid of sense, to set her hand To scoundrel deeds she could not understand. Alas! 'tis true; and I in vain had tried To soften crime that cannot be denied; And might have labour'd many a tedious verse The latent cause of mischief to rehearse: Be it confess'd, that long, with troubled look, This Trader view'd a huge accompting-book; (His former marriage for a time delay'd The dreaded hour, the present lent its aid But he too clearly saw the evil day, And put the terror, by deceit, away; Thus, by connecting with his sorrows crime, He gain'd a portion of uneasy time. - All this too late the injur'd Lady saw: What law had given, again she gave to law; His guilt, her folly--these at once impress'd Their lasting feelings on her guileless breast. 'Shame I can bear,' she cried, 'and want
sustain, But will not see this guilty wretch again:' For all was lost, and he with many a tear Confess'd the fault--she turning scorn'd to hear. To legal claims he yielded all his worth. But small the portion, and the wrong'd were wroth, Nor to their debtor would a part allow; And where to live he know not--knew not how. The Wife a cottage found, and thither went The suppliant man, but she would not relent: Thenceforth she utter'd with indignant tone, 'I feel the misery, and will feel alone.' He would turn servant for her sake, would keep The poorest school, the very streets would sweep, To show his love. 'It was already shown, And her affliction should be all her own: His wants and weakness might have touch'd her
heart, But from his meanness she resolved to part.' In a small alley was she lodged, beside Its humblest poor, and at the view she cried, 'Welcome! yes! let me welcome, if I can, The fortune dealt me by this cruel man: Welcome this low-thatch'd roof, this shatter'd
door, These walls of clay, this miserable floor; Welcome my envied neighbours; this to you Is all familiar--all to me is new: You have no hatred to the loathsome meal, Your firmer nerves no trembling terrors feel, Nor, what you must expose, desire you to conceal; What your coarse feelings bear without offence, Disgusts my taste and poisons every sense: Daily shall I your sad relations hear Of wanton women and of men severe; There will dire curses, dreadful oaths abound, And vile expressions shock me and confound: Noise of dull wheels, and songs with horrid words, Will be the music that this lane affords; Mirth that disgusts, and quarrels that degrade The human mind, must my retreat invade: Hard is my fate! yet easier to sustain, Than to abide with guilt and fraud again; A grave impostor! who expects to meet, In such gray locks and gravity, deceit? Where the sea rages and the billows roar, Men know the danger, and they quit the shore; But, be there nothing in the way descried, When o'er the rocks smooth runs the wicked tide - Sinking unwarn'd, they execrate the shock And the dread peril of the sunken rock.' A frowning world had now the man to dread, Taught in no arts, to no profession bred; Pining in grief, beset with constant care Wandering he went, to rest he knew not where. Meantime the Wife--but she abjured the name - Endured her lot, and struggled with the shame; When, lo! an uncle on the mother's side, In nature something, as in blood allied, Admired her firmness, his protection gave, And show'd a kindness she disdain'd to crave. Frugal and rich the man, and frugal grew The sister-mind without a selfish view; And further still--the temp'rate pair agreed With what they saved the patient poor to feed: His whole estate, when to the grave consign'd, Left the good kinsman to the kindred mind; Assured that law, with spell secure and tight, Had fix'd it as her own peculiar right. Now to her ancient residence removed, She lived as widow, well endowed and loved; Decent her table was, and to her door Came daily welcomed the neglected poor: The absent sick were soothed by her relief, As her free bounty sought the haunts of grief; A plain and homely charity had she, And loved the objects of her alms to see; With her own hands she dress'd the savoury meat, With her own fingers wrote the choice receipt; She heard all tales that injured wives relate, And took a double interest in their fate; But of all husbands not a wretch was known So vile, so mean, so cruel as her own. This bounteous Lady kept an active spy, To search th' abodes of want, and to supply; The gentle Susan served the liberal dame - Unlike their notions, yet their deeds the same: No practised villain could a victim find Than this stern Lady more completely blind; Nor (if detected in his fraud) could meet One less disposed to pardon a deceit; The wrong she treasured, and on no pretence Received th' offender, or forgot th' offence: But the kind Servant, to the thrice-proved knave A fourth time listen'd and the past forgave. First in her youth, when she was blithe and gay; Came a smooth rogue, and stole her love away: Then to another and another flew, To boast the wanton mischief he could do: Yet she forgave him, though so great her pain, That she was never blithe or gay again. Then came a spoiler, who, with villain-art Implored her hand, and agonized her heart; He seized her purse, in idle waste to spend With a vile wanton, whom she call'd her friend; Five years she suffer'd--he had revell'd five - Then came to show her he was just alive; Alone he came, his vile companion dead, And he, a wand'ring pauper, wanting bread; His body wasted, wither'd life and limb, When this kind soul became a slave to him: Nay, she was sure that, should he now survive, No better husband would be left alive: For him she mourn'd, and then, alone and poor, Sought and found comfort at her Lady's door: Ten years she served, and mercy her employ, Her tasks were pleasure, and her duty joy. Thus lived the Mistress and the Maid, design'd Each other's aid--one cautious, and both kind: Oft at their window, working, they would sigh To see the aged and the sick go by; Like wounded bees, that at their home arrive Slowly and weak, but labouring for the hive. The busy people of a mason's yard The curious Lady view'd with much regard; With steady motion she perceived them draw Through blocks of stone the slowly-working saw; It gave her pleasure and surprise to see Among these men the signs of revelry: Cold was the season, and confined their view, Tedious their tasks, but merry were the crew; There she beheld an aged pauper wait, Patient and still, to take an humble freight; Within the panniers on an ass he laid The ponderous grit, and for the portion paid; This he re-sold, and, with each trifling gift, Made shift to live, and wretched was the shift. Now will it be by every reader told Who was this humble trader, poor and old. - In vain an author would a name suppress, From the least hint a reader learns to guess; Of children lost, our novels sometimes treat, We never care--assured again to meet: In vain the writer for concealment tries, We trace his purpose under all disguise; Nay, though he tells us they are dead and gone, Of whom we wot, they will appear anon; Our favourites fight, are wounded, hopeless lie, Survive they cannot--nay, they cannot die; Now, as these tricks and stratagems are known, 'Tis best, at once, the simple truth to own. This was the husband--in an humble shed He nightly slept, and daily sought his bread: Once for relief the weary man applied; 'Your wife is rich,' the angry vestry cried: Alas! he dared not to his wife complain, Feeling her wrongs, and fearing her disdain: By various methods he had tried to live, But not one effort would subsistence give: He was an usher in a school, till noise Made him less able than the weaker boys; On messages he went, till he in vain Strove names, or words, or meanings to retain; Each small employment in each neighbouring town, By turn he took, to lay as quickly down: For, such his fate, he fail'd in all he plann'd, And nothing prosper'd in his luckless hand. At his old home, his motive half suppress'd, He sought no more for riches, but for rest: There lived the bounteous Wife, and at her gate He saw in cheerful groups the needy wait; 'Had he a right with bolder hope t'apply?' He ask'd--was answer'd, and went groaning by: For some remains of spirit, temper, pride, Forbade a prayer he knew would be denied. Thus was the grieving man, with burthen'd ass, Seen day by day along the street to pass: 'Who is he, Susan? who the poor old man? He never calls--do make him, if you can.' The conscious damsel still delay'd to speak, She stopp'd confused, and had her words to seek; From Susan's fears the fact her mistress knew, And cried--'The wretch! what scheme has he in view? Is this his lot?--but let him, let him feel - Who wants the courage, not the will, to steal.' A dreadful winter came, each day severe, Misty when mild, and icy cold when clear; And still the humble dealer took his load, Returning slow, and shivering on the road: The Lady, still relentless, saw him come, And said--'I wonder, has the wretch a home?' - 'A hut! a hovel!' 'Then his fate appears To suit his crime.'--'Yes, lady, not his years; - No! nor his sufferings--nor that form decay'd.' 'Well! let the parish give its paupers aid: You must the vileness of his acts allow.' - 'And you, dear lady, that he feels it now.' 'When such dissemblers on their deeds reflect, Can they the pity they refused expect? He that doth evil, evil shall he dread.' - 'The snow,' quoth Susan, 'falls upon his bed - It blows beside the thatch--it melts upon his head
.' 'Tis weakness, child, for grieving guilt to feel.'
- 'Yes, but he never sees a wholesome meal; Through his bare dress appears his shrivell'd skin, And ill he fares without, and worse within: With that weak body, lame, diseased, and slow, What cold, pain, peril, must the sufferer know!' 'Think on his crime.'--'Yes, sure 'twas very wrong; But look (God bless him!) how he gropes along.' 'Brought me to shame.'--Oh! yes, I know it all - What cutting blast! and he can scarcely crawl: He freezes as he moves--he dies! if he should fall: With cruel fierceness drives this icy sleet - And must a Christian perish in the street, In sight of Christians?--There! at last, he lies; - Nor unsupported can he ever rise: He cannot live.' 'But is he fit to die?' - Here Susan softly mutter'd a reply, Look'd round the room--said something of its state, Dives the rich, and Lazarus at his gate; And then aloud--'In pity do behold The man affrighten'd, weeping, trembling, cold: Oh! how those flakes of snow their entrance win Through the poor rags, and keep the frost within. His very heart seems frozen as he goes, Leading that starved companion of his woes: He tried to pray--his lips, I saw them move, And he so turn'd his piteous looks above; But the fierce wind the willing heart opposed, And, ere he spoke, the lips in misery closed: Poor suffering object! yes, for ease you pray'd, And God will hear--He only, I'm afraid.' 'Peace! Susan, peace! pain ever follows sin.' - 'Ah! then,' thought Susan, 'when will ours begin? When reach'd his home, to what a cheerless fire And chilling bed will those cold limbs retire! Yet ragged, wretched as it is, that bed Takes half the space of his contracted shed; I saw the thorns beside the narrow grate, With straw collected in a putrid state: There will he, kneeling, strive the fire to raise, And that will warm him, rather than the blaze: The sullen, smoky blaze, that cannot last One moment after his attempt is past; And I so warmly and so purely laid, To sink to rest--indeed, I am afraid.' 'Know you his conduct?'--'Yes, indeed I know, And how he wanders in the wind and snow; Safe in our rooms the threat'ning storm we hear, But he feels strongly what we faintly fear.' 'Wilful was rich, and he the storm defied; Wilful is poor, and must the storm abide,' Said the stern Lady; ''tis in vain to feel; Go and prepare the chicken for our meal.' Susan her task reluctantly began, And utter'd as she went--'The poor old man!' But while her soft and ever-yielding heart Made strong protest against her lady's part, The lady's self began to think it wrong To feel so wrathful and resent so long. 'No more the wretch would she receive again, No more behold him--but she would sustain; Great his offence, and evil was his mind - But he had suffer'd, and she would be kind: She spurn'd such baseness, and she found within A fair acquittal from so foul a sin; Yet she too err'd, and must of Heaven expect To be rejected, him should she reject.' Susan was summon'd--'I'm about to do A foolish act, in part seduced by you; Go to the creature--say that I intend, Foe to his sins, to be his sorrow's friend: Take, for his present comforts, food and wine, And mark his feelings at this act of mine: Observe if shame be o'er his features spread, By his own victim to be soothed and fed; But, this inform him, that it is not love That prompts my heart, that duties only move. Say, that no merits in his favour plead, But miseries only, and his abject need; Nor bring me grov'ling thanks, nor high-flown
praise; I would his spirits, not his fancy, raise: Give him no hope that I shall ever more A man so vile to my esteem restore; But warn him rather, that, in time of rest, His crimes be all remember'd and confess'd: I know not all that form the sinner's debt, But there is one that he must not forget.' The mind of Susan prompted her with speed To act her part in every courteous deed: All that was kind she was prepared to say, And keep the lecture for a future day; When he had all life's comforts by his side, Pity might sleep, and good advice be tried. This done, the mistress felt disposed to look, As self-approving, on a pious book; Yet, to her native bias still inclined, She felt her act too merciful and kind; But when, long musing on the chilling scene So lately past--the frost and sleet so keen - The man's whole misery in a single view - Yes! she could think some pity was his due. Thus fix'd, she heard not her attendant glide With soft slow step--till, standing by her side, The trembling servant gasp'd for breath, and shed Relieving tears, then utter'd, 'He is dead!' 'Dead!' said the startled Lady.--'Yes, he fell Close at the door where he was wont to dwell; There his sole friend, the Ass, was standing by, Half dead himself, to see his Master die.' 'Expired he then, good Heaven! for want of
food?' - 'No! crusts and water in a corner stood: - To have this plenty, and to wait so long, And to be right too late, is doubly wrong: Then, every day to see him totter by, And to forbear--Oh! what a heart had I!' 'Blame me not, child; I tremble at the news.' 'Tis my own heart,' said Susan, 'I accuse: To have this money in my purse--to know What grief was his, and what to grief we owe; To see him often, always to conceive How he must pine and languish, groan and grieve, And every day in ease and peace to dine, And rest in comfort!--What a heart is mine!'
- by George Crabbe28
THE STRUGGLES OF CONSCIENCE.
A serious Toyman in the city dwelt, Who much concern for his religion felt; Reading, he changed his tenets, read again, And various questions could with skill maintain; Papist and Quaker if we set aside, He had the road of every traveller tried; There walk'd a while, and on a sudden turn'd Into some by-way he had just discern'd: He had a nephew, Fulham: --Fulham went His Uncle's way, with every turn content; He saw his pious kinsman's watchful care, And thought such anxious pains his own might spare, And he the truth obtain'd, without the toil, might
share. In fact, young Fulham, though he little read, Perceived his uncle was by fancy led; And smiled to see the constant care he took, Collating creed with creed, and book with book. At length the senior fix'd; I pass the sect He call'd a Church, 'twas precious and elect; Yet the seed fell not in the richest soil, For few disciples paid the preacher's toil; All in an attic room were wont to meet, These few disciples, at their pastor's feet; With these went Fulham, who, discreet and grave, Follow'd the light his worthy uncle gave; Till a warm Preacher found the way t'impart Awakening feelings to his torpid heart: Some weighty truths, and of unpleasant kind, Sank, though resisted, in his struggling mind: He wish'd to fly them, but, compell'd to stay, Truth to the waking Conscience found her way; For though the Youth was call'd a prudent lad, And prudent was, yet serious faults he had - Who now reflected--'Much am I surprised; I find these notions cannot be despised: No! there is something I perceive at last, Although my uncle cannot hold it fast; Though I the strictness of these men reject, Yet I determine to be circumspect: This man alarms me, and I must begin To look more closely to the things within: These sons of zeal have I derided long, But now begin to think the laugher's wrong! Nay, my good uncle, by all teachers moved, Will be preferr'd to him who none approved; - Better to love amiss than nothing to have loved.' Such were his thoughts, when Conscience first
began To hold close converse with th' awaken'd man: He from that time reserved and cautious grew, And for his duties felt obedience due; Pious he was not, but he fear'd the pain Of sins committed, nor would sin again: Whene'er he stray'd, he found his Conscience rose, Like one determined what was ill t'oppose, What wrong t'accuse, what secret to disclose; To drag forth every latent act to light, And fix them fully in the actor's sight: This gave him trouble, but he still confess'd The labour useful, for it brought him rest. The Uncle died, and when the Nephew read The will, and saw the substance of the dead - Five hundred guineas, with a stock in trade - He much rejoiced, and thought his fortune made; Yet felt aspiring pleasure at the sight, And for increase, increasing appetite; Desire of profit idle habits check'd (For Fulham's virtue was to be correct); He and his Conscience had their compact made - 'Urge me with truth, and you will soon persuade; But not,' he cried, 'for mere ideal things Give me to feel those terror-breeding stings.' 'Let not such thoughts,' she said, 'your mind
confound; Trifles may wake me, but they never wound; In them indeed there is a wrong and right, But you will find me pliant and polite; Not like a Conscience of the dotard kind, Awake to dreams, to dire offences blind: Let all within be pure, in all beside Be your own master, governor, and guide; Alive to danger, in temptation strong, And I shall sleep our whole existence long.' 'Sweet be thy sleep,' said Fulham; 'strong must
be The tempting ill that gains access to me: Never will I to evil deed consent; Or, if surprised, oh! how will I repent! Should gain be doubtful, soon would I restore The dangerous good, or give it to the poor; Repose for them my growing wealth shall buy, Or build--who knows?--an hospital like Guy. Yet why such means to soothe the smart within, While firmly purposed to renounce the sin?' Thus our young Trader and his Conscience dwelt In mutual love, and great the joy they felt; But yet in small concerns, in trivial things, 'She was,' he said, 'too ready with the stings;' And he too apt, in search of growing gains, To lose the fear of penalties and pains: Yet these were trifling bickerings, petty jars, Domestic strifes, preliminary wars; He ventured little, little she express'd Of indignation, and they both had rest. Thus was he fix d to walk the worthy way, When profit urged him to a bold essay: - A time was that when all at pleasure gamed In lottery chances, yet a law unblamed: This Fulham tried; who would to him advance A pound or crown, he gave in turn a chance For weighty prize--and should they nothing share, They had their crown or pound in Fulham's ware; Thus the old stores within the shop were sold For that which none refuses, new or old. Was this unjust? yet Conscience could not rest, But made a mighty struggle in the breast, And gave th' aspiring man an early proof That should they war he would have work enough: 'Suppose,' said she, 'your vended numbers rise The same with those which gain each real prize, (Such your proposal), can you ruin shun?' - 'A hundred thousand,' he replied, 'to one.' 'Still it may happen.'--'I the sum must pay.' 'You know you cannot.'--'I can run away.' 'That is dishonest.'--'Nay, but you must wink At a chance hit: it cannot be, I think. Upon my conduct as a whole decide, Such trifling errors let my virtues hide. Fail I at meeting? am I sleepy there? My purse refuse I with the priest to share? Do I deny the poor a helping hand? Or stop the wicked women in the Strand? Or drink at club beyond a certain pitch? Which are your charges? Conscience, tell me
which?' ''Tis well,' said she, 'but--' 'Nay, I pray,
have done: Trust me, I will not into danger run.' The lottery drawn, not one demand was made; Fulham gain'd profit and increase of trade. 'See now,' said he--for Conscience yet arose - 'How foolish 'tis such measures to oppose: Have I not blameless thus my state advanced?' 'Still,' mutter'd Conscience, 'still it might have
chanced.' 'Might!' said our hero: 'who is so exact As to inquire what might have been a fact?' Now Fulham's shop contain'd a curious view Of costly trifles, elegant and new: The papers told where kind mammas might buy The gayest toys to charm an infant's eye; Where generous beaux might gentle damsels please, And travellers call who cross the land or seas, And find the curious art, the neat device, Of precious value and of trifling price. Here Conscience rested, she was pleased to find No less an active than an honest mind; But when he named his price, and when he swore His Conscience check'd him that he ask'd no more, When half he sought had been a large increase On fair demand, she could not rest in peace; (Beside th' affront to call th' adviser in, Who would prevent, to justify the sin): She therefore told him that 'he vainly tried To soothe her anger, conscious that he lied; If thus he grasp'd at such usurious gains, He must deserve, and should expect her pains.' The charge was strong; he would in part confess Offence there was--But, who offended less? 'What! is a mere assertion call'd a lie? And if it be, are men compell'd to buy? 'Twas strange that Conscience on such points should
dwell, While he was acting (he would call it) well; He bought as others buy, he sold as others sell; There was no fraud, and he demanded cause Why he was troubled when he kept the laws?' 'My laws!' said Conscience. 'What,' said he, '
are thine? Oral or written, human or divine? Show me the chapter, let me see the text; By laws uncertain subjects are perplex'd: Let me my finger on the statute lay, And I shall feel it duty to obey.' 'Reflect,' said Conscience, ''twas your own
desire That I should warn you--does the compact tire? Repent you this?--then bid me not advise, And rather hear your passions as they rise: So you may counsel and remonstrance shun; But then remember it is war begun; And you may judge from some attacks, my friend, What serious conflicts will on war attend.' 'Nay, but,' at length the thoughtful man
replied, 'I say not that; I wish you for my guide; Wish for your checks and your reproofs--but then Be like a conscience of my fellow-men; Worthy I mean, and men of good report, And not the wretches who with Conscience sport: There's Bice, my friend, who passes off his grease Of pigs for bears', in pots a crown apiece; His Conscience never checks him when he swears The fat he sells is honest fat of bears; And so it is, for he contrives to give A drachm to each--'tis thus that tradesmen live; Now why should you and I be over-nice? What man is held in more repute than Bice?' Here ended the dispute; but yet 'twas plain The parties both expected strife again: Their friendship cool'd, he look'd about and saw Numbers who seem'd unshackled by his awe; While like a schoolboy he was threatened still, Now for the deed, now only for the will: Here Conscience answered 'To thy neighbour's guide Thy neighbour leave, and in thine own confide.' Such were each day the charges and replies, When a new object caught the trader's eyes; A Vestry-patriot, could he gain the name, Would famous make him, and would pay the fame. He knew full well the sums bequeath'd in charge For schools, for almsmen, for the poor, were large; Report had told, and he could feel it true, That most unfairly dealt the trusted few; No partners would they in their office take, Nor clear accounts at annual meetings make. Aloud our hero in the vestry spoke Of hidden deeds, and vow'd to draw the cloak; It was the poor man's cause, and he for one Was quite determined to see justice done: His foes affected, laughter, then disdain, They too were Ioud; and threat'ning, but in vain; The pauper's friend, their foe, arose and spoke
again; Fiercely he cried, 'Your garbled statements show That you determine we shall nothing know; But we shall bring your hidden crimes to light, Give you to shame, and to the poor their right.' Virtue like this might some approval ask - But Conscience sternly said, 'You wear a mask!' 'At least,' said Fulham, 'if I have a view To serve myself, I serve the public too.' Fulham, though check'd, retain'd his former
zeal, And this the cautious rogues began to feel: 'Thus will he ever bark,' in peevish tone An elder cried--'the cur must have a bone.' They then began to hint, and to begin Was all they needed--it was felt within: In terms less veil'd an offer then was made; Though distant still, it fail'd not to persuade: More plainly then was every point proposed, Approved, accepted, and the bargain closed. The exulting paupers hail'd their Friend's success, And bade adieu to murmurs and distress. Alas! their Friend had now superior light, And, view'd by that, he found that all was right; 'There were no errors, the disbursements small; This was the truth, and truth was due to all.' And rested Conscience? No! she would not rest, Yet was content with making a protest: Some acts she now with less resistance bore, Nor took alarm so quickly as before: Like those in towns besieged, who every ball At first with terror view, and dread them all; But, grown familiar with the scenes, they fear The clanger less, as it approaches near; So Conscience, more familiar with the view Of growing evils, less attentive grew: Yet he, who felt some pain and dreaded more, Gave a peace-offering to the angry poor. Thus had he quiet--but the time was brief; From his new triumph sprang a cause of grief; In office join'd, and acting with the rest, He must admit the sacramental test. Now, as a sectary, he had all his life, As he supposed, been with the Church at strife: - No rules of hers, no laws had he perused, Nor knew the tenets he by rote abused; Yet Conscience here arose more fierce and strong Than when she told of robbery and wrong. 'Change his religion! No! he must be sure That was a blow no Conscience eould endure.' Though friend to Virtue, yet she oft abides In early notions, fix'd by erring guides; And is more startled by a call from those, Than when the foulest crimes her rest oppose: By error taught, by prejudice misled, She yields her rights, and Fancy rules instead; When Conscience all her stings and terror deals, Not as Truth dictates, but as Fancy feels: And thus within our hero's troubled breast, Crime was less torture than the odious test. New forms, new measures, he must now embrace, With sad conviction that they warr'd with grace; To his new church no former friend would come, They scarce preferr'd her to the Church of Rome; But thinking much, and weighing guilt and gain, Conscience and he commuted for her pain; Then promised Fulham to retain his creed, And their peculiar paupers still to feed; Their attic-room (in secret) to attend, And not forget he was the preacher's friend: Thus he proposed, and Conscience, troubled, tried, And wanting peace, reluctantly complied. Now, care subdued, and apprehensions gone, In peace our hero went aspiring on; But short the period--soon a quarrel rose, Fierce in the birth, and fatal in the close; With times of truce between, which rather proved That both were weary, than that either loved. Fulham e'en now disliked the heavy thrall, And for her death would in his anguish call, As Rome's mistaken friend exclaimed, 'Let Carthage
fall,' So felt our hero, so his wish express'd, Against this powerful sprite--delenda est: Rome in her conquest saw not danger near, Freed from her rival and without a fear; So, Conscience conquer'd, men perceive how free, But not how fatal, such a state must be. Fatal, not free, our hero's; foe or friend, Conscience on him was destined to attend: She dozed indeed, grew dull, nor seem'd to spy Crime following crime, and each of deeper dye; But all were noticed, and the reckoning time With her account came on--crime following crime. This, once a foe, now Brother in the Trust, Whom Fulham late described as fair and just, Was the sole Guardian of a wealthy maid, Placed in his power, and of his frown afraid: Not quite an idiot, for her busy brain Sought, by poor cunning, trifling points to gain; Success in childish projects her delight, She took no heed of each important right. The friendly parties met--the Guardian cried, 'I am too old; my sons have each a bride: Martha, my ward, would make an easy wife: On easy terms I'll make her yours for life; And then the creature is so weak and mild. She may be soothed and threaten'd as a child.' 'Yet not obey,' said Fulham, 'for your fools, Female and male, are obstinate as mules.' Some points adjusted, these new friends agreed, Proposed the day, and hurried on the deed. ''Tis a vile act,' said Conscience. 'It will
prove,' Replied the bolder man, 'an act of love: Her wicked guardian might the girl have sold To endless misery for a tyrant's gold; Now may her life be happy--for I mean To keep my temper even and serene.' 'I cannot thus compound,' the spirit cried, 'Nor have my laws thus broken and defied: This is a fraud, a bargain for a wife; Expect my vengeance, or amend your life.' The Wife was pretty, trifling, childish, weak; She could not think, but would not cease to speak. This he forbade--she took the caution ill, And boldly rose against his sovereign will; With idiot-cunning she would watch the hour, When friends were present, to dispute his power: With tyrant-craft, he then was still and calm, But raised in private terror and alarm: By many trials, she perceived how far To vex and tease, without an open war; And he discovered that so weak a mind No art could lead, and no compulsion bind; The rudest force would fail such mind to tame, And she was callous to rebuke and shame; Proud of her wealth, the power of law she knew, And would assist him in the spending too: His threat'ning words with insult she defied, To all his reasoning with a stare replied; And when he begg'd her to attend, would say, 'Attend I will--but let me have my way.' Nor rest had Conscience: 'While you merit pain From me,' she cried, 'you seek redress in vain.' His thoughts were grievous: 'All that I possess From this vile bargain adds to my distress; To pass a life with one who will not mend, Who cannot love, nor save, nor wisely spend, Is a vile prospect, and I see no end: For if we part, I must of course restore Much of her money, and must wed no more. 'Is there no way?'--Here Conscience rose in
power, - 'Oh! fly the danger of this fatal hour; I am thy Conscience, faithful, fond, and true: Ah, fly this thought, or evil must ensue; Fall on thy knees, and pray with all thy soul, Thy purpose banish, thy design control: Let every hope of such advantage cease, Or never more expect a moment's peace.' Th' affrighten'd man a due attention paid, Felt the rebuke, and the command obey'd. Again the wife rebell'd, again express'd A love for pleasure--a contempt of rest; 'She whom she pleased would visit, would receive Those who pleased her, nor deign to ask for leave.' 'One way there is,' said he; 'I might contrive Into a trap this foolish thing to drive: Who pleased her, said she?--I'll be certain who.' 'Take heed,' said Conscience 'what thou mean'st to
do; Ensnare thy wife?'--'Why, yes,' he must confess, 'It might be wrong, but there was no redress; Beside to think,' said he, 'is not to sin.' 'Mistaken man!' replied the power within. No guest unnoticed to the lady came, He judged th' event with mingled joy and shame; Oft he withdrew, and seem'd to leave her free, But still as watchful as a lynx was he; Meanwhile the wife was thoughtless, cool, and gay, And, without virtue, had no wish to stray. Though thus opposed, his plans were not
resign'd; 'Revenge,' said he, 'will prompt that daring mind; Refused supplies, insulted and distress'd, Enraged with me, and near a favourite guest - Then will her vengeance prompt the daring deed, And I shall watch, detect her, and be freed.' There was a youth--but let me hide the name, With all the progress of this deed of shame; He had his views--on him the husband cast His net, and saw him in his trammels fast. 'Pause but a moment--think what you intend,' Said the roused Sleeper: 'I am yet a friend. Must all our days in enmity be spent?' 'No!' and he paused--'I surely shall repent:' Then hurried on--the evil plan was laid, The wife was guilty, and her friend betray'd, And Fulham gain'd his wish, and for his will was
paid. Had crimes less weighty on the spirit press'd, This troubled Conscience might have sunk to rest; And, like a foolish guard, been bribed to peace, By a false promise, that offence should cease; Past faults had seem'd familiar to the view, Confused if many, and obscure though true; And Conscience, troubled with the dull account, Had dropp'd her tale, and slumber'd o'er th'
amount: But, struck by daring guilt, alert she rose, Disturb'd, alarm'd, and could no more repose: All hopes of friendship and of peace were past, And every view with gloom was overcast. Hence from that day, that day of shame and sin, Arose the restless enmity within: On no resource could Fulham now rely, Doom'd all expedients, and in vain, to try; For Conscience, roused, sat boldly on her throne, Watch'd every thought, attack'd the foe alone, And with envenom'd sting drew forth the inward
groan: Expedients fail'd that brought relief before, In vain his alms gave comfort to the poor, Give what he would, to him the comfort came no
more: Not prayer avail'd, and when (his crimes confess'd) He felt some ease, she said, 'Are they redress'd? You still retain the profit, and be sure, Long as it lasts, this anguish shall endure.' Fulham still tried to soothe her, cheat,
mislead, But Conscience laid her finger on the deed, And read the crime with power, and all that must
succeed: He tried t'expel her, but was sure to find Her strength increased by all that he design'd; Nor ever was his groan more loud and deep Than when refresh'd she rose from momentary sleep. Now desperate grown, weak, harass'd, and afraid, From new allies he sought for doubtful aid; To thought itself he strove to bid adieu, And from devotions to diversions flew; He took a poor domestic for a slave (Though avarice grieved to see the price he gave); Upon his board, once frugal, press'd a load Of viands rich the appetite to goad; The long protracted meal, the sparkling cup, Fought with his gloom, and kept his courage up: Soon as the morning came, there met his eyes Accounts of wealth, that he might reading rise; To profit then he gave some active hours, Till food and wine again should renovate his
powers: Yet, spite of all defence, of every aid, The watchful Foe her close attention paid; In every thoughtful moment on she press'd, And gave at once her dagger to his breast; He waked at midnight, and the fears of sin, As waters through a bursten dam, broke in; Nay, in the banquet, with his friends around, When all their cares and half their crimes were
drown'd, Would some chance act awake the slumbering fear, And care and crime in all their strength appear: The news is read, a guilty victim swings, And troubled looks proclaim the bosom-stings: Some pair are wed; this brings the wife in view; And some divorced; this shows the parting too: Nor can he hear of evil word or deed, But they to thought, and thought to sufferings
lead. Such was his life--no other changes came, The hurrying day, the conscious night the same; The night of horror--when he starting cried To the poor startled sinner at his side, 'Is it in law? am I condemned to die? Let me escape!--I'll give--oh! let me fly - How! but a dream!--no judges! dungeon! chain! Or these grim men!--I will not sleep again - Wilt thou, dread being! thus thy promise keep? Day is thy time--and wilt thou murder sleep? Sorrow and want repose, and wilt thou come, Nor give one hour of pure untroubled gloom? 'Oh! Conscience! Conscience! man's most faithful
friend, Him canst thou comfort, ease, relieve, defend; But if he will thy friendly checks forego, Thou art, oh? woe for me, his deadliest foe?'
Poems by George Crabbe, George Crabbe's poems collection. George Crabbe is a classical and famous poet (24 December 1754 - 3 February 1832 / Aldeburgh, Suffulk). Share all poems of George Crabbe.