George Crabbe.

The poetical works of George Crabbe online

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bigot, at their folly and their craft.

To those readers who have seen thr? journals of the first Methodists, or
the extracts quoted from them by their opiiosers* in the early times of
this spiritual influenza, are sufficiently known all their leading notions
and peculiarities ; so that I have no need to enter into such unpleasant
inquiries in this place ; 1 have only to observe that their tenets remain the
same, and have still the former ellect on the minds of the converted :
there is yet that imagined contention with the jiowers of darkness, that is
at once so lamentable and so ludicrous : there is the same oflensive
familiarity with the Deity, with a full trust and confidence both in the

• •' MfthcdlsU and Pftpiats comiinrt-d ;" " Treatise on Grace," by BiBliop Warbiurton, 4c.


immediate efficacy of their miserably delivered supplications, and in the
reality of numberless small miracles wrought at their request and for their
convenience : there still exists that delusion, by which some of the most
common diseases of the body are resarded as proofs of the malignity of
Satan contending for dominion over the soul : and there still remams the
same wretched jargon, composed of scriptural language, debased by vulgar
expressions, which has a kind of mystic influence on the mmds of the
ignorant. It will be recollected that it is the abuse of those scriptural
terms which I conceive to be improper : they are doubtless most signifi-
cant and ethcacious when used with propriety ; but it is painful to the
mind of a soberly devout person, when he hears every rise and fall of the
animal spirits, every whim and notion of enthusiastic ignorance, expressed
in the venerable language of the Apostles and Evangelists.

The success of these people is great, but not surprising : as the powers
they claim are given, and come not of education, many may, and therefore
do, fancy they are endowed with them ; so that they who do not venture
to become preachers, yet exert the minor gifts, and gain reputation for
the faculty of prayer, as soon as tliey can address the Creator in darmg
flights of unpremeditated absurdity. The less indigent gain the praise of
hospitality, and the more harmonious become distinguished in their
choirs : curiosity is kept alive by succession of ministers, and self-love is
flattered by the consideration that they are the persons at whom the world
wonders; add to this, tbat, in many of them, pride is gratified by their
consequence as new members of a sect whom their conversion pleases,
and by the liberty which, as seceders, they tal<e, of speaking contemptu-
ously of the Church and ministers, whom they have relinquished.

Of those denominated Cahnnistic Methodists, I had principally one sect
in view> or, to adopt the term of its founder, a church. Tins chimh
consists of several congregations in town and country, unknown perhaps
in many parts of tbe kingdom, but, where known, the cause of much
curiosity and some amusement. To such of my readers as may judge an
enthusiastic teacher and his peculiarities to be unworthy any serious
attention, I would observe that there is somethhig unusually daring ir the
boast of this man, who claims the authority of a messenger sent from
God, and declares without hesitation that his call was immediate ; that he
is assisted by the sensible influence of the Spirit, and that miracles are
perpetually wrought in his favour and for his convenience.

As it was and contniues to be my desire to give proof that I had advanced
nothing respecting this extraordinary person, his operations or assertions,
which might not be readily justified by quotations from his own writings,
I had collected several of these and disposed them under certain heads ;
but I found tliat by this means a veiy disproportioned share of attention
must he given to the subject, and alter some consideration, I have
determined to relinquish the design; and should any have curiosity to
search whether my representation of the temper and disposition, the spirit
and manners, the knowledge and capacity, of a very popular teaclier he
coiTfcct, he is referred to about fourscore pamphlets, whose titles wil be
found on the covers of the late editions of the liuiik of Faith, itselt a
woiKlerful performance, which (according to the turn of mind in the
reader) will cither highly excite, or totally extinguish, curiosity. In these
works will be abundantly seen, abuse and contempt of the Church of
■ England and its ministers; vengeance and virulent denunciation against
all offenders ; scorn for morality and heathen virtue, with that kind ot
learning which the author pos^e-ses, and his peculiar style ot composition.
A few of the titles placed below will give some information to the reader
respecting the merit and design of tliose performances *

As many of the preacher's subjects arc cimtroverted and nice questions
in divinity, he has sometiuies allowed himself relaxation from the seventy

• Baibnr, in two parta ; Boiul.ChlUl ; Cry of Little-Faith; Satan's I>aw9iiit : Forty
StrliiL-a for Satjui ; Mj nli and <><l„ur of Saint* ; tl.o xNak..! Huw uf lio, ; Rule ami Ruidlc ;
Way and F,ire lor Wayfariii); M.-n ; Utility of tl.« Bool^., and KxcdI.n.y of the P^mh-
mcnta; Corresiioudcnco between Noctua, Aur ita (the worda so seijarattd), and ritUo-
mela, Ac.


of study, and favoured his admirers with the effects of an humbler kind of
inspiration, viz., that of the Muse. It must be confessed tliat these fliglits
of fancy are very humble, and have nothing: of that daring- and mysterious
nature which the prose of the author leads us to expect. The nhuensions
of eteniiit Lore is a title of one of his more learned productions, with
which might have been expected (as a fit companion) The Bounds of
infinite Grace ; but no such worlt appears, and possibly the author con-
sidered one attempt of this kind was sutficient to prove the extent and
direction of his abilities.

Of the whole of this mass of inquiry and decision, of denunciation and
instruction (could we suppose it read by intelligent persons), different
opinions would probably be formed ; the more indignant and severe would
condemn the whole as the produce of craft and hypocrisy, while the more
lenient would allow that such things might originate in the wandering
imagination of a drearahig enthusiast.

None of my readers will, I trust, do me so much injustice as to suppose
I have here any other motive than a vindication of what I have advanced
in the verses which describe this kind of character, or that I had there any
other purpose than to express (wliat I conceive to be) justifiable indigna-
tion against the assurance, the malignity, and (what is of more importance)
the pernicious influence of such sentiments on the minds of the simple and
ignorant, who, if they give credit to his relations, must be no more than tools
and instruments under the control and management of one called to be
their Apostle. ^ . ■

Nothing would be more easy for me, as I have observed, than to bnng
forward quotations such as would justify all I have advanced; but even
had I room, I cannot tell whether there be not something degrading in
such kind of attack : the reader might smile at those miraculous accounts,
but he would consider them and the language of the author as benea'h his
further attention : I therefore once more refer him to those pamphlets,
which will alTord matter for pity and for contempt, by which some would
be amused and others astonished— not without sorrow, when they reflect
that thousands look up to the writer as a man literally inspired, to whose
wants they administer with their substance, and to whose guidance they
prostrate their spirit and understanding.

Having been so long detained by this Letter, I must not permit my
desire of elucidating what may seem obscure, or of defending what is
liable to miscnnstruction, any further to prevail over a wish for brevity,
and the fear of giving an air of importance to subjects which have perhaps
little in themselves. .

The circumstance recorded in the fifth Letter is a fact ; although it may
appear to many almost incredible, that, in this country, and but few years
since, a close and successful man should be a stranger to the method of
increasing money by the loan of it. The Minister of the place where the
honest lM^hermaIl resided, has related to me the apprehension and sus-
picion he witnessed. With trembling hand ami duliious look, the careful
man received and surveyed the bond given to him ; and alter a sigh or two
of lingering mistrust, he placed it in tlie coffer whence he had just before
taken his cash ; for which, and for whose increase, he now indulged a
belief that it was indeed both promise and security.

If the Letter which treats ot Inns should be found to contain nothing:
interesting or uncommon; if it describe things wliich we behold every
day, and some winch we do not wish to behold at any time, let it be
considerd that this Letter is one of the shortest, and that from a poem
whose subject was a borough, populous and wealthy, these places of
pulilic accommodation could nut, without some impropriety, be excluded.
I entertain the strongest, liecause the most reasonable liope, that no
liberal practitioner in tlie law wiU be offended by the notice taken of dis-
honourable and crafty attorneys. The increased ditticulty of entering into
the profession will in time render it much more free than it now is, trom
those who disgrace it ; at present such persons remain ; and it would
not be difficult to give instances of neglect, ignorance, cruelty, oppression,
and chicanery ; nor are they by any means contlncd to one part of the

88 craebe's poems.

country : quacks and impostors are indeed in every profession, as well
with a license as without one. The character and actions of Swallow
might doubtless be contrasted by the delineation of an able and upright
solicitor ; but this Letter is of sufficient length, and such persons, without
question, are already known to my readers.

When 1 observe, under the article Physic, that the young and less
experienced physician will write rather with a view of makhig himself
known, than to investigate and publish some useful fact, I would not be
thought to extend this remark to all the pubUcations of such men. I
could point out a work, containing experiments the most judicious, and
conclusions the most interesting, made by a gentleman, then young,
which would have given just celebrity to a man after long practice. The
observation is nevertheless generally true : many opinions have been
adopted and many books written, not that the theory might be well
defended, but that a young physician might be better known.

If I have in one letter praised the good-humour of a man confessedly
too inattentive to business, and, in another, if 1 have written somewhat
sarcastically of "the brick-floored parlour which the butcher lets;" be
credit given to me, that in the one case I had no intention to apologize
for idleness, nor any design in the other to treat with contempt the
resources of the poor. The good-humour is considered as the consola-
tion of disappointment, and the room is so mentioned because the lodger
is vain. Most of my readers will perceive this ; but I shall be sorry if by
any I am supposed to make pleas for the vices of men, or treat their
wants and infirmities with derision or with disdain.

It is probable, that really polite people, with cultivated minds and
harmonious tempers, may judge my description of a Card-club conversa-
tion to be highly exaggerated, if not totally fictitious ; and I acknowledge
that the club must admit a particular kind of members to attord such
specimens of acrimony and objurgation : yet that such language is
spoken, and such manners exhibited, is most certain, chiefly among those
who, being successful in life, without previous education, not very nice
in their feelings, or very attentive to improprieties, sit down to game
with no other view than that of adding the gain of the evening to the
profits of the day ; whom therefore disappointment itself makes angrj',
and, when caused by another, resentful and vindictive.

The Letter on Itinerant Players will to some appear too harshly written;
their profligacy exaggerated, and their distresses magnified ; but though
the respectability of a part of these people may give us a more favourable
view of the whole bodv, though some actors be sober, and some managers
prudent, still there is vice and misery left, more than sufficient to justify
my description. But if I could find only one one woman who {passing
forty years on many stages, and sustaining many principal characters)
laments in her unrcspccttd old age, that there was no workhouse to
which she could legally sue for admission ; if I could produce only one
female, seduced upon the boards, and starved in her lodging, compelled
by her poverty to sing, and by her sufierings to weep, without any
prospect but misery, or any consolation but death ; if I could exhibit only
one youth who sought refuge from parental authority in the licentious
freedom of a wandering company; yet, with three such examples, I
should feel myself justified in the account I have given :— but such
characters and sufl'orings are common, and there are few of these
societies which could not show members of this description. To some,
indeed, the life has its satisfactions : they never expected to he free from
labour, and their present kind they think is light ; they have no delicate
ideas of shame, and therefore duns and hisses give them no other pain
than what arises from the fear of not being trusted, joined with the
apprehension that they may have nothing to subsist upon except their

For the Alms-house itself, its Governors and Inhabitants, I have not
much to ofler in favour of the subject or of the characters. One ol these.
Sir Ofnys Brand, may be considered as too highly placed for an author
("who seldom ventures above middle- life) to delineate; and indeed 1 had


some idea of reserving him for anotiier occasion, where he migrht have
appeared with tliose in liis own rank : but then it is most uncertain
whether he would ever appear, and he has been so many years prepared
for the public whenever opportunity might offer, that I have at length
given him place, and though with his inferiors, yet as a ruler over them.
Of these, one {Benbow) may be thought too low and despicable to be
admitted here; but he is a borough character, and, however disgusting in
some resi)ects a picture may be, it will please some, and be tolerated by
many, if it can boast that one merit of being a faithful likeness.

Dlaney and Cleliii, a male and female inhabitant of this mansion, are
drawn at some length ; and I may be thought to have given them
attention which they do not merit. I plead not for the originality, but
for the truth of the character; and though it may not be very pleasing,
it may be useful to delineate (for certain minds) these mixtures of levity
and vice; people who are thus incurably vain and determinately worldly;
thus devoted to enjoyment and insensihfb of shame, and so miserably
fond of their pleasures, that they court even the remembrance with eager
solicitation, by conjuring up the ghosts of departed indulgences with all
the aid that memory can afford them. These characters demand some
attention, because they hold out a warning to that numerous class of
young people who are too lively to be discreet ; to whom the purpose of
life is amusement, and who are always in danger of falling into vicious
habits, because they have too much activity to be quiet, and too little
strength to be steady.

The characters of the Hospital Directors were written many years
since, and so far as I was capable of judging, are drawn with fidclitii.
I mention this circumstance, that, if any reader should find a difference
in the versification or expression, he will be thus enabled to account
for it.

The Poor are here almost of necessity introduced, for they must be
considered, in every place, as a large and interesting portion of its
inhabitants. I am aware of the great difficulty of acquiring just notions
on the maintenance and management of this class of our fellow-subjects,
and I forbear to express any opinion of the various modes wliicli have
been discussed or adopted : of one method only I venture to give my
sentiments, that of collecting the poor of a hundred into one building:
this admission of a vast number of persons, of all ages and both sexes, of
very different inclinations, habits, and capacities, into a society,,
at a first view, 1 conceive, be looked upon as a cause of both vice and
misery ; nor does anything which I have heard or read invalidate
the opinion ; happily, it is not a prevailing one, as these houses are,
I believe, still confined to that part of the kingdom where they

To this subject follow several Letters describing the follies and crimes
of persons in lower life, with one relation of a happier and more conso-
latory kind. It has been a subject of greater vexation to me than such
a trifle ought to be, that I could not, without destroying all a|)pearance of
arrangement, separate these melancholy narratives, and place the fallen
Clerk in Office at a greater distance from the Clerk of the Parish,
especially as they resembled each other in several particulars ; botli
being tempted, seduced, and wretched. Yet are there, I conceive, con-
siderable marks of distinction : their guilt is of different kind ; nor
would either have committed the offence of the other. The Clerk of
the Parish could break the commandment, but he could not have been
induced to have disowned an article of that creed for which he had so
bravely contended, and on which he fully relied; and the upright mind of
the Clerk in Office would have secnrcil him from being guilty of wrong
and robbery, though his weak and vacillating intillect vo\\h\ not preserve
him from infidelity and iirolaiieness. Their melancholy is nearly alike,
but not its consequences. Jmhin retained his belief, and thmigh he
hated life, he could never be induced to (piit it voluntarily ; but Alid was
driven to terminate his misery in a way which the unfixedncss of h^s
religious opinions rather accelerated than retarded. I am therefore not

90 cbabbe's poems.

without hope that the more observant of my readers will perceive many-
marks of discrimination in these characters.

The Life of Ellen Orfnrd, though sufficiently burthened with error and
misfortune, has in it little besides which resembles those of the above
unhappy men, and is still more unlike that of Grimes, in a subsequent
letter. There is in this character cheerfulness and resig-nation, a more
uniform piety, and an immovable trust '.n the aid of religion : this, with
the light texture of the introductory pait, will, I hope, take off from that
idea of sameness which the repetition of crimes and distresses is likely to
create. The character of Grimes, his obduracy and apparent want of
feeling, his gloomy kind of misanthropy, the progress of his madness,
and the horrors of his imagination, I must leave to the judgment and
observation of my readers. The mhid here exhibited, is one untouched
by pity, unstung by remorse, and uncorrected by shame : yet is this
hardihood of temper and spirit broken by want, disease, solitude, and
disappointment ; and he becomes the victim of a distempered and horror-
stricken fancy. It is evident, therefore, that no feeble vision, no half-
visible ghost, not the momentary glance of an unbodied being, nor the
half-audible voice of an invisible one, would be created by the continual
workings of distress on a mind so depraved and flinty. The ruffian of
Mr. Scott* has a mind of this nature : he has no shame or remorse : but
the corrosion of hopeless want, the wasting of unabating disease, and the
gloom of unvaried solitude, will have their effect on every nature ; and
the harder that nature is, and the longer time required to work upon it,
so much the more strong and indelible is the impression. This is all the
reason I am able to give, why a man of feeling so dull should yet become
insane, should be of so horrible a nature. -

That a letter on Prisons should follow those narratives, is unfortunate,
but not to be easily avoided. I confess it is not pleasant to be detained
so long by subjects so repulsive to the feelings of many, as the sufferings
of mankhid: but though I assuredly would have altered this arrangement,
had I been able to have done it by substituting a better, yet am I not of
opinion that my verses, or indeed the verses of any other person, can so
represent the evils and distresses of life as to make any material impres-
sion on the mind, and much less any of injurious nature. Alas! sufferings
real, evident, continually before us, have not effects very serious or
lastmg, even in the minds of the more reflecting and compassionate ; nor
indeed does it seem right that the pain caused by sympatliy should serve
for more than a stimulus to benevolence. If then the strength and
solidity of truth placed before our eyes, have effect so feeble and transi-
tory, I need not be very apprehensive that my representations of Poor-
houses and Prisons, of wants and sufferhigs, however faithfully taken,
will excite any feelings which can be seriously lamented. It has always
been held as a salutary exercise of the mind, to contemplate the evils and
miseries of our nature I am not therefore without hope, that even this
gloomy subject of Imprisonment, and more especially the Dream of the
condennied Highwayman, will excite in some minds that mingled pity
and abhorrence, which, while it is not unpleasant to the feelings, is
useful in its operation : it ties and binds us to all mankind by sensations
common to us all, and in some degree connects us, without degradation,
even to the most miserable and guilty of our fellow-men.

Our concludnig subject is Education ; and some attempt is made to
describe its various seminaries, from that of the poor widow, who pro-
nounces the alphabet for infants, to seats whence the light of Icartiing is
shed abnjad on the world. If, in this letter, I describe the lives of
literary men as embittered by much evil ; if they be often disappointed,
and sometimes unfitted for the world they improve ; let it be considered
that they are described as nuMi wlio possess that great pleasure, the
exercise of their own talents, and the delight which flows from their own
exertions: they have joy in their pursuits, and glory in their acquirements
of knowledge. Their victory over difficulties affords the most rational

* Manulon.


cause of tTiiimph, and the attainment of new ideas leads to incalculable
riches, such as gratify thef^lorious avarice of aspiring and comprehensive
muuts. Here then J place the reward of learning. Our Universities
produce men of the first scholastic attainments, who are heirs to large
possessions, or descendants from noble families. Now, to those so
favoured, talents and acquirements are, unquestionably, means of arriving
at the most elevated and important situutions ; but these must be the lot
of a few ; in general, the diligence, acuteness, and perseverance of a youth
at the university, have no other reward than some college honours and
emoluments, which they desire to exchange, many of them, for very
moderate incomes in the obscurity of some distant village ; so that, in
stating the reward of an ardent and powerful mind to consist principally
(I might have said entirely) m its own views, efforts, and excursions, I
place it upon a sure foundation, though not one so eU'vated as the more
ambitious aspire to. It is surely some encouragement to a studious man
to reflect, that if he be disappointed, he cannot be without gratification ;
ami that if he gets hut a very humble portion of what the world can give,
he has a continual fruition of unwearying enjoyment, of which it has not
power to deprive him

Long as I have detained the reader, I take leave to add a few words on
the subject of imitation, or, more plainly speaking, borrowing. In the
course of a long poem, and more especially of two long ones, it is very
difficult to avoid a recurrence of the same thoughts, and of similar
expressions ; and, however careful I have been myself in detecting and
removing these kinds of repetitions, my readers, 1 question not, would,
if disposed to seek thein, find many remaining. For these I can only
plead that common excuse — they are the offences of a bad memory, and

Online LibraryGeorge CrabbeThe poetical works of George Crabbe → online text (page 11 of 49)