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The Borough. Letter X: Clubs And Social Meetings

George Crabbe 1754 (Aldborough) – 1832 (Trowbridge)



YOU say you envy in your calm retreat
Our social Meetings;--'tis with joy we meet.
In these our parties you are pleased to find
Good sense and wit, with intercourse of mind;
Composed of men who read, reflect, and write,
Who, when they meet, must yield and share delight.
To you our Book-club has peculiar charm,
For which you sicken in your quiet farm;
Here you suppose us at our leisure placed,
Enjoying freedom, and displaying taste:
With wisdom cheerful, temperately gay,
Pleased to enjoy, and willing to display.
If thus your envy gives your ease its gloom,
Give wings to fancy, and among us come.
We're now assembled; you may soon attend -
I'll introduce you--'Gentlemen, my friend.'
'Now are you happy? you have pass'd a night
In gay discourse, and rational delight.'
'Alas! not so: for how can mortals think,
Or thoughts exchange, if thus they eat and drink?
No! I confess when we had fairly dined,
That was no time for intercourse of mind;
There was each dish prepared with skill t'invite,
And to detain the struggling appetite;
On such occasions minds with one consent
Are to the comforts of the body lent;
There was no pause--the wine went quickly round,
Till struggling Fancy was by Bacchus bound;
Wine is to wit as water thrown on fire,
By duly sprinkling both are raised the higher;
Thus largely dealt, the vivid blaze they choke,
And all the genial flame goes off in smoke.'
'But when no more your boards these loads

contain,
When wine no more o'erwhelms the labouring brain,
But serves, a gentle stimulus; we know
How wit must sparkle, and how fancy flow.'
It might be so, but no such club-days come;
We always find these dampers in the room:
If to converse were all that brought us here,
A few odd members would in turn appear;
Who, dwelling nigh, would saunter in and out,
O'erlook the list, and toss the books about;
Or yawning read them, walking up and down,
Just as the loungers in the shops in town;
Till fancying nothing would their minds amuse,
They'd push them by, and go in search of news.
But our attractions are a stronger sort,
The earliest dainties and the oldest port;
All enter then with glee in every look,
And not a member thinks about a book.
Still, let me own, there are some vacant hours,
When minds might work, and men exert their powers:
Ere wine to folly spurs the giddy guest,
But gives to wit its vigour and its zest;
Then might we reason, might in turn display
Our several talents, and be wisely gay;
We might--but who a tame discourse regards,
When Whist is named, and we behold the Cards?
We from that time are neither grave nor gay;
Our thought, our care, our business is to play:
Fix'd on these spots and figures, each attends
Much to his partners, nothing to his friends.
Our public cares, the long, the warm debate,
That kept our patriots from their beds so late;
War, peace, invasion, all we hope or dread,
Vanish like dreams when men forsake their bed;
And groaning nations and contending kings
Are all forgotten for these painted things;
Paper and paste, vile figures and poor spots,
Level all minds, philosophers and sots;
And give an equal spirit, pause, and force,
Join'd with peculiar diction, to discourse:
'Who deals?--you led--we're three by cards--had you
Honour in hand?'--'Upon my honour, two.'
Hour after hour, men thus contending sit,
Grave without sense, and pointed without wit.
Thus it appears these envied Clubs possess
No certain means of social happiness;
Yet there's a good that flows from scenes like

these -
Man meets with man at leisure and at ease;
We to our neighbours and our equals come,
And rub off pride that man. contracts at home;
For there, admitted master, he is prone
To claim attention and to talk alone:
But here he meets with neither son nor spouse;
No humble cousin to his bidding bows;
To his raised voice his neighbours' voices rise,
To his high look as lofty look replies;
When much he speaks, he finds that ears are closed,
And certain signs inform him when he's prosed;
Here all the value of a listener know,
And claim, in turn, the favour they bestow.
No pleasure gives the speech, when all would

speak,
And all in vain a civil hearer seek.
To chance alone we owe the free discourse,
In vain you purpose what you cannot force;
'Tis when the favourite themes unbidden spring,
That fancy soars with such unwearied wing;
Then may you call in aid the moderate glass,
But let it slowly and unprompted pass;
So shall there all things for the end unite,
And give that hour
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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George Crabbe

George Crabbe was an English poet, surgeon, and clergyman. more…

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