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«GEORGE CRABBE 1754–1832 From The Borough1 Letter XXII, The Poor of The Borough: Peter Grimes } Old Peter Grimes made fishing his employ, His wife ...»




From The Borough1

Letter XXII, The Poor of The Borough: Peter Grimes


Old Peter Grimes made fishing his employ,

His wife he cabined with him and his boy,

And seemed that life laborious to enjoy;

To town came quiet Peter with his fish,

And had of all a civil word and wish.

He left his trade upon the sabbath day,

And took young Peter in his hand to pray;

But soon the stubborn boy from care broke loose, At first refused, then added his abuse;

His father’s love, he scorned, his power defied, But being drunk, wept sorely when he died.

Yes! then he wept, and to his mind there came Much of his conduct, and he felt the shame— How he had oft the good old man reviled, And never paid the duty of a child;

How, when the father in his Bible read, He in contempt and anger left the shed;

“It is the word of life,” the parent cried;

—“This is the life itself,” the boy replied;

And while old Peter in amazement stood, Gave the hot spirit to his boiling blood;

How he, with oath and furious speech, began To prove his freedom and assert the man;

And when the parent checked his impious rage, How he had cursed the tyranny of age— Nay, once had dealt the sacrilegious blow On his bare head, and laid his parent low;

The father groaned—“If thou art old,” said he, “And hast a son—thou wilt remember me.

Thy mother left me in a happy time, Thou kill’dst not her—Heaven spares the double crime.” On an inn-settle,2 in his maudlin grief, This he revolved, and drank for his relief.

Now lived the youth in freedom, but debarred From constant pleasure, and he thought it hard;

Hard that he could not every wish obey,

1. The Borough (1810) consists of 24 verse letters cases of maltreatment of apprentices), the hard which aim to describe a whole community— landscape, the clear and chilling verse, and the Aldeburgh (pronounced Ald-borough), the Suffolk cruel haunted character of Grimes himself join in fishing village that Crabbe knew so well. In the a single image of harsh reality.

“Peter Grimes” story (based probably on actual 2. Bench in a tavern; “revolved”: pondered.

2 / George Crabbe But must awhile relinquish ale and play;

Hard! that he could not to his cards attend,

–  –  –

3. At this time, the poor were confined, at the men” to remove young people from the workhouses expense of the local church parish, to “work- and “bind them over” (i.e., sell them practically as houses,” where they were put to compulsory labor. slaves) to tradesmen.

It was a common practice for “workhouse-clearing 4. I.e., two-wheeled carriage.

The Borough / 3 Received a blow, and trembling turned away, Or sobbed and hid his piteous face; while he, The savage master, grinned in horrid glee;

He’d now the power he ever loved to show, A feeling being subject to his blow.

Thus lived the lad, in hunger, peril, pain, His tears despised, his supplications vain;

Compelled by fear to lie, by need to steal, His bed uneasy and unblessed his meal, For three sad years the boy his tortures bore, And then his pains and trials were no more.

“How died he, Peter?” when the people said, } He growled—“I found him lifeless in his bed,” Then tried for softer tone, and sighed, “Poor Sam is dead.” Yet murmurs were there, and some questions asked— How he was fed, how punished, and how tasked?

Much they suspected, but they little proved, And Peter passed untroubled and unmoved.

Another boy with equal ease was found, The money granted, and the victim bound.

And what his fate?—One night it chanced he fell From the boat’s mast and perished in her well, Where fish were living kept, and where the boy (So reasoned men) could not himself destroy.

“Yes, so it was,” said Peter, “in his play (For he was idle both by night and day), He climbed the mainmast and then fell below”— Then showed his corpse and pointed to the blow.

What said the jury?—They were long in doubt, But sturdy Peter faced the matter out;

So they dismissed him, saying at the time, “Keep fast your hatchway when you’ve boys who climb.” This hit the conscience, and he colored more Than for the closest questions put before.

Thus all his fears the verdict set aside, And at the slave-shop Peter still applied.

Then came a boy of manners soft and mild— Our seamen’s wives with grief beheld the child;

All thought (the poor themselves) that he was one Of gentle blood, some noble sinner’s son, Who had, belike, deceived some humble maid, Whom he had first seduced and then betrayed.

However this, he seemed a gracious lad, In grief submissive and with patience sad.

Passive he labored, till his slender frame Bent with his loads, and he at length was lame;

Strange that a frame so weak could bear so long The grossest insult and the foulest wrong!

But there were causes: in the town they gave Fire, food, and comfort to the gentle slave, And though stern Peter, with a cruel hand And knotted rope, enforced the rude command, 4 / George Crabbe

–  –  –

But I had pity and my arm withdrew:

He cried for mercy which I kindly gave, But he has no compassion in his grave.

“There were three places, where they ever rose— The whole long river has not such as those— Places accursed, where, if a man remain, He’ll see the things which strike him to the brain;

And there they made me on my paddle lean, And look at them for hours—accurséd scene!

When they would glide to that smooth eddy-space, Then bid me leap and join them in the place;

And at my groans each little villain sprite Enjoyed my pains and vanished in delight.

“In one fierce summer day, when my poor brain Was burning hot and cruel was my pain, Then came this father-foe, and there he stood With his two boys again upon the flood;

There was more mischief in their eyes, more glee In their pale faces when they glared at me.

Still did they force me on the oar to rest, And when they saw me fainting and oppressed, He, with his hand, the old man, scooped the flood, And there came flame about him mixed with blood;

He bade me stoop and look upon the place, Then flung the hot-red liquor in my face;

Burning it blazed, and then I roared for pain, I thought the demons would have turned my brain.

“Still there they stood, and forced me to behold A place of horrors—they cannot be told— Where the flood opened, there I heard the shriek

Of tortured guilt—no earthly tongue can speak:

‘All days alike! forever!’ did they say, ‘And unremitted torments every day!’— Yes, so they said.”—But here he ceased and gazed On all around, affrightened and amazed;

And still he tried to speak, and looked in dread Of frightened females gathering round his bed;

Then dropped exhausted and appeared at rest, Till the strong foe the vital powers possessed;

Then with an inward, broken voice he cried, “Again they come,” and muttered as he died.

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