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- The Borough - 1/45 -

Transcribed by Mark Sherwood, e-mail:

"THE BOROUGH", by GEORGE CRABBE (1754-1832) {1}


These did the ruler of the deep ordain, To build proud navies and to rule the main. POPE, Homer's Iliad.

Such scenes has Deptford, navy-building town, Woolwich and Wapping, smelling strong of pitch; Such Lambeth, envy of each band and gown, And Twickenham such, which fairer scenes enrich. POPE, Imitation of Spencer.

. . . . . . . . . . . Et cum coelestibus undis Aequoreae miscentur aquae: caret ignibus aether, Caecaque nox premitur tenebris hiemisque suisque; Discutient tamen has, praebentque micantia lumen Fulmina: fulmineis ardescunt ignibus undae. OVID, Metamorphoses.



The Difficulty of describing Town Scenery--A Comparison with certain Views in the Country--The River and Quay--The Shipping and Business- -Shipbuilding--Sea-Boys and Port-Views--Village and Town Scenery again compared--Walks from Town--Cottage and adjoining Heath, &c.-- House of Sunday Entertainment--The Sea: a Summer and Winter View--A Shipwreck at Night, and its Effects on Shore--Evening Amusements in the Borough--An Apology for the imperfect View which can be given of these Subjects.

"DESCRIBE the Borough"--though our idle tribe May love description, can we so describe, That you shall fairly streets and buildings trace, And all that gives distinction to a place? This cannot be; yet moved by your request A part I paint--let Fancy form the rest. Cities and towns, the various haunts of men, Require the pencil; they defy the pen: Could he who sang so well the Grecian fleet, So well have sung of alley, lane, or street? Can measured lines these various buildings show, The Town-Hall Turning, or the Prospect Row? Can I the seats of wealth and want explore, And lengthen out my lays from door to door? Then let thy Fancy aid me--I repair From this tall mansion of our last year's Mayor, Till we the outskirts of the Borough reach, And these half-buried buildings next the beach, Where hang at open doors the net and cork, While squalid sea-dames mend the meshy work; Till comes the hour when fishing through the tide The weary husband throws his freight aside; A living mass which now demands the wife, Th' alternate labours of their humble life. Can scenes like these withdraw thee from thy wood, Thy upland forest, or thy valley's flood? Seek then thy garden's shrubby bound, and look, As it steals by, upon the bordering brook; That winding streamlet, limpid, lingering slow, Where the reeds whisper when the zephyrs blow; Where in the midst, upon a throne of green, Sits the large Lily as the water's queen; And makes the current, forced awhile to stay, Murmur and bubble as it shoots away; Draw then the strongest contrast to that stream, And our broad river will before thee seem. With ceaseless motion comes and goes the tide, Flowing, it fills the channel vast and wide; Then back to sea, with strong majestic sweep It rolls, in ebb yet terrible and deep; Here Samphire-banks and Saltwort bound the flood, There stakes and sea-weeds withering on the mud; And higher up, a ridge of all things base, Which some strong tide has roll'd upon the place. Thy gentle river boasts its pigmy boat, Urged on by pains, half-grounded, half afloat: While at her stern an angler takes his stand, And marks the fish he purposes to land; From that clear space, where, in the cheerful ray Of the warm sun, the scaly people play. Far other craft our prouder river shows, Hoys, pinks, and sloops: brigs, brigantines, and snows: Nor angler we on our wide stream descry, But one poor dredger where his oysters lie: He, cold and wet, and driving with the tide, Beats his weak arms against his tarry side, Then drains the remnant of diluted gin, To aid the warmth that languishes within; Renewing oft his poor attempts to beat His tingling fingers into gathering heat. He shall again be seen when evening comes, And social parties crowd their favourite rooms: Where on the table pipes and papers lie, The steaming bowl or foaming tankard by; 'Tis then, with all these comforts spread around, They hear the painful dredger's welcome sound; And few themselves the savoury boon deny, The food that feeds, the living luxury. Yon is our Quay! those smaller hoys from town, Its various ware, for country use, bring down; Those laden waggons, in return, impart The country-produce to the city mart; Hark! to the clamour in that miry road, Bounded and narrow'd by yon vessel's load; The lumbering wealth she empties round the place, Package, and parcel, hogshead, chest, and case: While the loud seaman and the angry hind, Mingling in business, bellow to the wind. Near these a crew amphibious, in the docks, Rear, for the sea, those castles on the stocks: See! the long keel, which soon the waves must hide; See! the strong ribs which form the roomy side; Bolts yielding slowly to the sturdiest stroke, And planks which curve and crackle in the smoke. Around the whole rise cloudy wreaths, and far Bear the warm pungence of o'er-boiling tar. Dabbling on shore half-naked sea-boys crowd, Swim round a ship, or swing upon the shroud; Or in a boat purloin'd, with paddles play, And grow familiar with the watery way: Young though they be, they feel whose sons they are, They know what British seamen do and dare; Proud of that fame, they raise and they enjoy The rustic wonder of the village-boy. Before you bid these busy scenes adieu, Behold the wealth that lies in public view, Those far extended heaps of coal and coke, Where fresh-fill'd lime-kilns breathe their stifling smoke. This shall pass off, and you behold, instead, The night-fire gleaming on its chalky bed; When from the Lighthouse brighter beams will rise, To show the shipman where the shallow lies. Thy walks are ever pleasant; every scene Is rich in beauty, lively, or serene - Rich is that varied view with woods around, Seen from the seat within the shrubb'ry bound; Where shines the distant lake, and where appear From ruins bolting, unmolested deer; Lively the village-green, the inn, the place, Where the good widow schools her infant-race. Shops, whence are heard the hammer and the saw, And village-pleasures unreproved by law: Then how serene! when in your favourite room, Gales from your jasmines soothe the evening gloom; When from your upland paddock you look down, And just perceive the smoke which hides the town; When weary peasants at the close of day Walk to their cots, and part upon the way; When cattle slowly cross the shallow brook, And shepherds pen their folds, and rest upon their crook. We prune our hedges, prime our slender trees, And nothing looks untutor'd and at ease, On the wide heath, or in the flowery vale, We scent the vapours of the sea-born gale; Broad-beaten paths lead on from stile to stile, And sewers from streets the road-side banks defile; Our guarded fields a sense of danger show, Where garden-crops with corn and clover grow; Fences are form'd of wreck, and placed around, (With tenters tipp'd) a strong repulsive bound; Wide and deep ditches by the gardens run, And there in ambush lie the trap and gun; Or yon broad board, which guards each tempting prize, "Like a tall bully, lifts its head and lies." There stands a cottage with an open door, Its garden undefended blooms before: Her wheel is still, and overturn'd her stool, While the lone Widow seeks the neighb'ring pool: This gives us hope, all views of town to shun - No! here are tokens of the Sailor-son; That old blue jacket, and that shirt of check, And silken kerchief for the seaman's neck; Sea-spoils and shells from many a distant shore, And furry robe from frozen Labrador. Our busy streets and sylvan-walks between, Fen, marshes, bog, and heath all intervene; Here pits of crag, with spongy, plashy base, To some enrich th' uncultivated space: For there are blossoms rare, and curious rush, The gale's rich balm, and sun-dew's crimson blush, Whose velvet leaf with radiant beauty dress'd, Forms a gay pillow for the plover's breast.

The Borough - 1/45

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