Monday, February 26, 2018

surprises of Trowbridge

The Albany Palace, now a Wetherspoons pub in Trowbridge

I've lived near to Trowbridge (Wiltshire) for 27 years, and I've visited the town hundreds of times, but it was only yesterday, while having dinner at a Spoons pub in the town centre,  that I learnt that the poet George Crabbe was rector of Trowbridge from 1814 until his death in 1832. 

I had thought of Crabbe only as a Suffolk poet.  He was 60 when he took up the position in Trowbridge. His great collection Tales had been published two years earlier, but he was still active as a poet for the next few years. (The story is that he wrote beneath a mulberry in the rectory garden -- I think the mulberry may still be there.)  From 1820 onwards, however, he was afflicted by severe neuralgias that weren't conducive to writing poetry.

In May 1816 he wrote Flirtation -- A Dialogue, whih was published only after his death. In 1819 he published his last major collection Tales from the Hall. He was a popular poet and remained involved with the literary world. He was friends with Scott, Rogers, Wordsworth, Baillie, Bowles and Campbell among others. Indeed everyone (Austen, Byron...) seemed to admire Crabbe. Perhaps his admirable poetry seemed too old-fashioned to be viewed in the light of competition.

I was disappointed to find that Crabbe's poems aren't yet available online in text format. They are in Google Books (e.g. the 8-volume edition of 1835) but there's no easy cutting and pasting available to me.

In Flirtation Celia, anticipating the return after five years of her naval lover, discusses with her friend Delia how she intends to explain away, should Charles have heard about them, a number of colourful flirtations with other gentlemen. One of the gentlemen in question is Delia's own brother.

(Delia.) ... But for my Brother -- night and morn were you
Together found, th'inseparable two,
Far from the haunts of vulgar prying men --
In the old abbey -- in the lonely glen --
In the beech wood -- within the quarry made
By hands long dead -- within the silent glade,
Where the moon gleams upon the spring that flows
By the grey willows as they stand in rows --
Shall I proceed? there's not a quiet spot
In all the parish where the pair were not,
Oft watch'd, oft seen.  You must not so despise
This weighty charge -- Now, what will you devise?

Celia. -- "Her brother! What, Sir? Jealous of a child!
"A friend's relation! Why, the man is wild --
"A boy not yet at college! Come, this proves
"Some truth in you! This is a freak of Love's:
"I must forgive it, though I know not how
"A thing so very simple to allow.
"Pray, if I meet my cousin's little boy,
"And take a kiss, would that your peace annoy?
"But I remember Delia -- yet to give
"A thought to this is folly, as I live --
"But I remember Delia made her prayer
"That I would try and give the Boy an air;
"Yet awkward he, for all the pains we took --
"A bookish boy, his pleasure is his book;
"And since the lad is grown to man's estate,
"We never speak -- Your bookish Youth I hate."

Delia. -- Right! and he cannot tell, with all his art,
Our father's will compell'd you both to part.

Celia. -- Nay, this is needless --

A local history display in the Albany Palace, Trowbridge

Tales from the Hall is virtually a full-blown novel in verse. Here's a well-known passage that I didn't have to copy out myself. Young Henry, though engaged to be married, has been fooling about with the servant girl Fanny. It turns out, however, that this has been observed by the steward of the house, who stands to Fanny in loco parentis. There follows an excruciating interview in which Henry discovers how entangled he has become. The  best-known lines, however, describe his distressed view of the landscape the following morning.

‘AN ORPHAN maid—your patience! you shall have

Your time to speak; I now attention crave—
Fanny, dear girl! has in my spouse and me
Friends of a kind we wish our friends to be,
None of the poorest—nay, sir, no reply,       
You shall not need—and we are born to die;
And one yet crawls on earth, of whom, I say,
That what he has he cannot take away:
Her mother’s father, one who has a store
Of this world’s goods and always looks for more;        
But, next his money, loves the girl at heart,
And she will have it when they come to part.’
  ‘Sir,’ said the youth, his terrors all awake,
‘Hear me, I pray, I beg—for mercy’s sake!
Sir, were the secrets of my soul confessed,        
Would you admit the truths that I protest
Are such—your pardon—’
                        ‘Pardon! good my friend,

I not alone will pardon, I commend;
Think you that I have no remembrance left
Of youthful love and Cupid’s cunning theft?        
How nymphs will listen when their swains persuade,
How hearts are gained and how exchange is made?
Come, sir, your hand—’
                        ‘In mercy hear me now!’

‘I cannot hear you, time will not allow:
You know my station, what on me depends,        
For ever needed—but we part as friends;
And here comes one who will the whole explain,
My better self—and we shall meet again:’
‘Sir, I entreat—’
                ‘Then be entreaty made

To her, a woman, one you may persuade;        
A little teasing, but she will comply,
And loves her niece too fondly to deny.’
‘O! he is mad, and miserable I!’
Exclaimed the youth; ‘but let me now collect
My scatter’d thoughts; I something must effect.’        
Hurrying she came—‘Now what has he confessed,
Ere I could come to set your heart at rest?
What! he has grieved you! Yet he too approves
The thing! but man will tease you, if he loves.
But now for business: tell me, did you think        
That we should always at your meetings wink?
Think you, you walked unseen? There are who bring
To me all secrets—O you wicked thing!
Poor Fanny! now I think I see her blush,
All red and rosy, when I beat the bush;        
And “Hide your secret,”—said I, “if you dare!”
So out it came like an affrightened hare.
“Miss!” said I, gravely: and the trembling maid
Pleased me at heart to see her so afraid;
And then she wept,—now, do remember this,        
Never to chide her when she does amiss;
For she is tender as the callow bird,
And cannot bear to have her temper stirred;—
“Fanny,” I said, then whispered her the name,
And caused such looks—yes, yours are just the same;        
But hear my story—When your love was known
For this our child—she is in fact our own—
Then, first debating, we agreed at last
To seek my Lord and tell him what had passed.’
‘To tell the Earl?’
                    ‘Yes truly, and why not?
And then together we contrived our plot.’
‘Eternal God!’
                ‘Nay be not so surprised,—

In all the matter we were well advised;
We saw my Lord, and Lady Jane was there,
And said to Johnson—‘Johnson, take a chair.’        
True we are servants in a certain way,
But in the higher places so are they;
We are obeyed in ours and they in theirs obey—
So Johnson bowed, for that was right and fit,
And had no scruple with the Earl to sit—        
Why look you so impatient while I tell
What they debated? You must like it well.’

*        *        *        *        *

  That evening all in fond discourse was spent
When the sad lover to his chamber went,
To think on what had passed, to grieve and to repent.        
Early he rose, and looked with many a sigh
On the red light that filled the eastern sky;
Oft had he stood before, alert and gay,
To hail the glories of the new-born day:
But now dejected, languid, listless, low,       
He saw the wind upon the water blow,
And the cold stream curled onward as the gale
From the pine hill blew harshly down the dale;
On the right side the youth a wood surveyed,
With all its dark intensity of shade;
Where the rough wind alone was heard to move,
In this, the pause of nature and of love,
When now the young are reared, and when the old,
Lost to the tie grow negligent and cold—
Far to the left he saw the huts of men,        
Half hid in mist, that hung upon the fen;
Before him swallows gathering for the sea,
Took their short flights and twittered on the lea;
And near the bean-sheaf stood, the harvest done,
And slowly blackened in the sickly sun;        
All these were sad in nature, or they took
Sadness from time, the likeness of his look,
And of his mind—he pondered for a while,
Then met his Fanny with a borrowed smile.

Trowbridge local history display in the Albany Palace 



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