1807
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Birth of Flattery.

Poems. By the Rev. George Crabbe, LL.B.

Rev. George Crabbe


An allegorical narrative beginning with two Spenserians, composed circa 1796-1801. Poverty, a sturdy swain, is married to Cunning; together they give birth to a child named Flattery: "And now the Fairies came, with Gifts to grace, | So mild a Nature, and so fair a Face. | They gave, with Beauty, that bewitching Art, | That holds in easy Chains, the human Heart; | They gave her Skill, to win the stubborn Mind, | To make the suffering, to their Sorrows blind, | To bring on pensive Looks the pleasing Smile, | And Care's stern brow, of every Frown beguile" p. 196. As fate would have it, Envy appears and condemns the lovely child to censure. But the phantom Simulation appears to Cunning in a dream, predicting that Flattery will not merely overcome all obstacles, but introduce a new Saturnian age upon earth.

The genealogical allegory of the passions was a popular form in eighteenth-century periodicals. Crabbe develops the form by an artful introduction of a fairy-tale narrative, which in combination with the glittering rhetoric of Simulation's long speech, creates in the reader an improbable sympathy for the little maiden destined to accomplish such great things.

Crabbe's narrative appears to take The Castle of Indolence as its point of departure, not only in its slippery rhetoric, but in its use of the genealogy motif — in Thomson's poem the Knight of Industry is similarly the progeny of Poverty (and Energy). "The Birth of Flattery" may also something to the more feminine allegory of William Hayley's Triumphs of Temper (1781). One might also compare the progress of decadence in William Julius Mickle's The Concubine (1767), and William Gillespie's allegory of the progress of progress in The Progress of Refinement (1805).

Anti-Jacobin Review: "Of the smaller poems we think Sir Eustace Grey and the Hall of Justice unquestionably the best, and the Birth of Flattery the least pleasing; but it is fair to add, that our dislike to allegorical poems in general may possibly influence our opinion" 28 (December 1807) 345.

Gentleman's Magazine: "In The Birth of Flattery, there is much poetical playfulness" 78 (January 1808) 59.

Francis Jeffrey: "The Library and The Newspaper are republications. They are written with a good deal of terseness, sarcasm, and beauty; but the subjects are not very interesting, and they will rather be approved, we think, than admired or delighted in. We are not much taken either with the Birth of Flattery. With many nervous lines and ingenious allusions, it has something of the languor which seems inseparable from an allegory which exceeds the length of an epigram" Edinburgh Review 12 (April 1808) 148.

Thomas Denman: "The Birth of Flattery is nearly as good as most of the allegories which have been composed since the days of Spenser" Monthly Review NS 56 (June 1808) 178.

Universal Magazine: "The Birth of Flattery, which follows next, possesses nothing very eminent. Flattery is made to be the offspring of Poverty and Cunning; but towards the conclusion, the author confounds flattery with falsehood. All flattery is, we know, combined with hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is founded upon falsehood; but Mr. Crabbe depicts open, avowed falsehood, not hid beneath the smooth and cunning veil of adulation" NS 11 (February 1809) 128.

Herbert E. Cory: "This satirical aspect of Spenserianism is seen alive as late as 1807 in George Crabbe's The Birth of Flattery. He begins with an affectionate invocation in Spenserian stanzas, 'Muse of Spenser, who so well could sing | The passions all, their bearings and their ties,' and soon launches forth in his satire proper in heroic couplets but still in the manner of Spenser. 'In Fairy-land, on wide and cheerless plain, | Dwelt in the house of Care, a sturdy swain' called Poverty. In the same plain lived the nymph Cunning. The two were wedded but soon fell into dissension. But the wife told of a vision which prophesied that their daughter would mend their fortunes. A beautiful child was born. But Envy came in the guise of an aged woman, pressed the babe to his breast, and cursed her. Despair fell upon the parents. But a vision instructed the mother to take courage. 'Be Flattery, then, the happy infant's name....' Crabbe was doubtless really influenced by Spenser for whom he frequently expressed the warmest admiration. But the methods here employed were not native to him. The Birth of Flattery is only successful in an occasional vengeful satirical thrust or in brief touches of characteristic grey realism" "Spenser, Thomson, and Romanticism" PMLA 26 (1911) 69n.

Norma Dalrymple-Champneys: "Composed at Glemham between 1796 and 1801.... [Apart from the opening stanzas] it is only in his general use of personifications that he appears to have Spenser in mind. There is, however, one specific reference in the 'House of Care' (l. 20) in which Poverty is born. Cf. Faerie Queene, IV, v. 33-44, for a description of Scudamour's visit to Care's house. In making Envy assume the disguise of an 'ancient Dame' (see below, ll. 128 ff. and 162), C is also adopting Spenser's trick of disguising a vice as an innocent-looking person. Cf. Faerie Queene, I. i. 34-5 in which the Enchanter, Archimago, symbolizing Hypocrisy, disguises himself as an aged hermit" Poetical Works (1988) 1:704-05.



Muse of my Spencer, who so well could sing,
The Passions all, their Bearings and their Ties;
Who could in View those shadowy Beings bring,
And with bold Hand remove each dark Disguise,
Wherein Love, Hatred, Scorn, or Anger lies:
Guide him to Fairy Land, who now intends
That Way his Flight; assist him as he flies,
To mark those Passions, Virtue's Foes and Friends,
By whom when led she droops, when leading she ascends.

Yes! they appear, I see the Fairy-Train!
And who that modest Nymph of meek Address?
Not Vanity, though lov'd by all the Vain;
Not Hope, though promising to all, Success;
Not Mirth, nor Joy, though Foe to all Distress;
Thee, sprightly Siren from this Train I choose,
Thy Birth relate, thy soothing Arts confess,
'Tis not in thy mild Nature to refuse,
When Poets ask thine Aid, so oft their Meed and Muse.

In Fairy-Land, on wide and cheerless Plain,
Dwelt, in the house of Care, a sturdy Swain;
A hireling he, who, when he till'd the Soil,
Look'd to the Pittance, that repaid his Toil;
And to a Master left the mingled Joy,
And anxious Care, that follow'd his Employ:
Sullen and patient he at once appear'd,
As one who murmur'd, yet as one who fear'd;
Th' Attire was coarse that cloth'd his sinewy Frame,
Rude his Address, and Poverty his Name.

In that same Plain a Nymph of curious Taste,
A Cottage (plann'd with all her Skill) had plac'd;
Strange the Materials, and for what design'd
The various Parts, no simple Man might find;
What seem'd the Door, each entering Guest withstood,
What seem'd a Window, was but painted Wood;
But by a secret Spring, the Wall would move,
And Day-light drop through glassy Door above;
'Twas all her Pride, new Traps for Praise to lay,
And all her Wisdom, was to hide her Way;
In small Attempts incessant were her Pains,
And Cunning was her Name among the Swains.

Now, whether Fate decreed this Pair should wed,
And blindly drove them to the Marriage Bed;
Or whether Love in some soft Hour inclin'd
The Damsel's Heart and won her to be kind,
Is yet unsung; they were an ill-match'd Pair,
But both dispos'd to wed, and wed they were.

Yet, though united in their Fortune, still
Their Ways were diverse, varying was their Will,
Nor long the Maid had bless'd the simple Man,
Before Dissensions rose, and she began:—

"Wretch that I am! since to thy Fortune bound,
Say what Success has one Projection crown'd?
I, who a thousand secret Arts possess,
Who every Rank approach with right Address;
Who've loosed a Guinea from a Miser's Chest,
And worm'd his Secret from a Traitor's Breast;
Thence Gifts and Gains collecting, great and small,
Have brought to thee, and thou consums't them all;
For Want like thine, a Bog without a Base,
Ingulf'st all Gains I gather for the Place;
Feeding, unfill'd; destroying, undestroy'd;
It craves for ever, and is ever void:—
Wretch that I am! what Misery have I found,
Since my sure Craft was to thy Calling bound."

"Oh! vaunt of worthless Arts," the Swain replied,
Scowling Contempt, "how pitiful this Pride!
What are these specious Gifts, these paltry Gains,
But base Rewards for ignominious Pains?
With all thy Tricking, still for Bread we strive,
Thine is, proud Wretch! the Care that cannot thrive,
By all thy boasted Skill and baffled Hooks,
Thou gain'st no more than Students by their Books;
No more than I for my poor Deeds am paid,
Whom none can blame, will help, or dare upbraid."

"Call this our Need, a Bog that all devours;
Then what thy petty Arts, but Summer Flowers,
Gaudy and mean, and serving to betray
The Place, they make unprofitably gay?
Who know it not, some useless Beauties see;
But ah! to prove it was reserv'd for me."

Unhappy State! that, in Decay of Love,
Permits harsh Truth his Errors to disprove;
While he remains, to wrangle and to jar,
Is friendly Tournament, not fatal War;
Love in his Play, will borrow Arms of Hate,
Anger and Rage, Upbraiding and Debate;
And by his Power the desperate Weapons thrown,
Become as safe and pleasant as his own;
But left by him, their Natures they assume,
And fatal, in their poisoning Force, become.

Time fled, and now the Swain compell'd to see
New Cause for Fear — "Is this thy Thrift?" quoth he.
To whom the Wife with cheerful voice replied:—
"Thou moody Man, lay all thy Fears aside,
I've seen a Vision; — they from whom I came,
A Daughter promise, promise Wealth and Fame;
Born with my Features, with my Arts, yet she
Shall patient, pliant, persevering be,
And in thy better Ways resemble thee.
The Fairies round shall at her Birth attend,
The Friend of all, in all shall find a Friend,
And save that one sad Star that Hour must gleam,
On our fair Child, how glorious were my Dream!"

This heard the Husband, and, in surly smile,
Aim'd at Contempt, but yet he hop'd the while;
For as, when sinking, wretched Men are found
To catch at Rushes rather than be drown'd;
So on a Dream our Peasant plac'd his Hope,
And found that Rush, as valid as a Rope.

Swift fled the Days, for now in Hope they fled,
When a fair Daughter bless'd the nuptial Bed;
Her Infant-Face the Mother's Pains beguil'd,
She look'd so pleasing and so softly smil'd;
Those Smiles, those Looks, with sweet Sensations mov'd
The Gazer's soul, and as he look'd, he lov'd.

And now the Fairies came, with Gifts to grace,
So mild a Nature, and so fair a Face.
They gave, with Beauty, that bewitching Art,
That holds in easy Chains, the human Heart;
They gave her Skill, to win the stubborn Mind,
To make the suffering, to their Sorrows blind,
To bring on pensive Looks the pleasing Smile,
And Care's stern brow, of every Frown beguile.
These magic Favours grac'd the Infant-Maid,
Whose more enlivening Smile, the charming Gifts repay'd.

Now Fortune chang'd, who, were she constant long,
Would leave us few Adventures for our Song.
A wicked Elfin rov'd this Land around,
Whose Joys proceeded from the Griefs he found;
Envy his name: — his fascinating Eye,
From the light Bosom drew the sudden Sigh;
Unsocial he, but with malignant Mind,
He dwelt with Man, that he might curse Mankind;
Like the first Foe, he sought th' Abode of Joy,
Griev'd to behold, but eager to destroy;
Round blooming Beauty, like the Wasp he flew,
Soil'd the fresh Sweet and chang'd the rosy Hue;
The Wise, the Good, with anxious Heart he saw,
And here a failing found, and there a flaw;
Discord in Families, 'twas his to move,
Distrust in Friendship, Jealousy in Love;
He told the Poor, what Joys the Great possess'd,
The Great — what calm Content the Cottage bless'd;
To part the Learned and the Rich he tried,
Till their slow Friendship perish'd in their Pride.
Such was the Fiend, and so secure of Prey,
That only Misery pass'd unstung away.

Soon as he heard the Fairy-Babe was born,
Scornful he smiled, but felt no more than Scorn;
For why, when Fortune plac'd her State so low,
In useless Spite his lofty Malice show?
Why in a Mischief of the meaner Kind,
Exhaust the Vigour of a ranc'rous Mind?
But soon as Fame the Fairy-Gifts proclaim'd,
Quick-rising Wrath his ready Soul inflam'd;
To swear by Vows that e'en the Wicked tie,
The Nymph should weep her varied Destiny;
That every Gift, that now appear'd to shine
In her fair Face, and make her Smiles divine,
Should all the Poison of his Magic prove,
And they should scorn her, whom she sought for Love.

His Spell prepar'd, in Form an antient Dame,
A Fiend in Spirit, to the Cot he came;
There gain'd Admittance, and the Infant press'd
(Muttering his wicked Magic) to his Breast;
And thus he said: — "Of all the Powers, who wait
On Jove's Decrees, and do the Work of Fate,
Was I, alone, despis'd or worthless, found,
Weak to protect, or impotent to wound?
See then thy Foe, regret the Friendship lost,
And learn my Skill, but learn it at your Cost.

"Know, then, O Child! devote to Fates severe
The Good shall hate thy Name, the Wise shall fear;
Wit shall deride, and no protecting Friend
Thy Shame shall cover, or thy Name defend.
Thy gentle Sex, who, more than ours, should spare
A humble Foe, will greater Scorn declare;
The Base alone thy Advocates shall be,
Or boast Alliance with a Wretch like thee."

He spake, and vanish'd, other Prey to find,
And waste in slow Disease, the conquer'd Mind.

Awed by the Elfin's threats, and fill'd with Dread,
The Parents wept, and sought their Infant's bed:
Despair alone the Father's Soul possess'd;
But Hope rose gently in the Mother's Breast;
For well she knew that neither Grief nor Joy
Pain'd without Hope, or pleas'd without Alloy;
And while these Hopes and Fears her Heart divide,
A cheerful Vision bade the Fears subside.

She saw descending to the World below
An antient Form with solemn Pace and Slow.

"Daughter, no more be sad," (the Phantom cried,)
"Success is seldom to the Wise denied;
In idle Wishes, Fools supinely stay,
Be there a Will, and Wisdom finds a Way;
Why art thou griev'd? Be rather glad, that he,
Who hates the happy, aims his Darts at thee;
But aims in vain; thy favour'd Daughter lies,
Serenely blest, and shall to Joy arise.
For, grant that Curses on her Name shall wait,
(So Envy wills, and such the voice of Fate,)
Yet if that Name be prudently suppress'd,
She shall be courted, favour'd, and caress'd.

"For what are names? and where agree Mankind,
In those to Persons or to Acts assign'd?
Brave, learn'd, or wise, if some their Favourites call,
Have they the Titles or the Praise from all?
Not so, but others will the Brave disdain
As rash, and deem the Sons of Wisdom vain;
The self-same Mind, shall Scorn or Kindness move,
And the same Deed, attract Contempt and Love.

"So all the Powers, who move the human Soul,
With all the Passions who the Will controul,
Have various Names — One giv'n by Truth divine,
(As Simulation thus was fix'd for mine,)
The rest by Man, who now, as Wisdom's prize
My secret Counsels, now as Art despise;
One hour as just, those Counsels they embrace,
And spurn, the next, as pitiful and base.

"Thee too, my Child, those Fools as Cunning fly,
Who on thy Counsel and thy Craft rely;
That worthy Craft in others they condemn,
But 'tis their Prudence, while conducting them.

"Be FLATTERY, then, thy happy Infant's Name,
Let Honour scorn her, and let Wit defame;
Let all be true that Envy dooms, yet all,
Not on herself, but on her Name, shall fall;
While she thy Fortune, and her own shall raise,
And decent Truth be call'd, and lov'd, as modest Praise.

"O happy Child! the glorious Day shall shine,
When every Ear shall to thy sSeech incline,
Thy Words alluring and thy Voice divine:
The sullen Pedant and the sprightly Wit,
To hear thy soothing Eloquence, shall sit;
And both, abjuring Flattery, will agree
That Truth inspires, and they must honour thee.

"Envy himself shall to thy Accents bend,
Force a faint smile and sullenly attend,
When thou shalt call him Virtue's jealous Friend,
Whose Bosom glows with generous rage, to find
How Fools and Knaves are flatter'd by Mankind.

"The Sage retir'd, who spends alone his Days,
And flies th' obstreperous Voice of public Praise;
The vain, the vulgar Cry, — shall gladly meet,
And bid thee welcome to his still Retreat;
Much will he wonder, how thou camest to find
A Man to Glory dead, to Peace consign'd.
O Fame! he'll cry (for he will call thee Fame),
From thee I fly, from thee conceal my Name;
But thou shalt say, Though Genius takes his Flight,
He leaves behind a glorious Train of Light,
And hides in vain: — yet prudent he that flies
The Flatterer's Art, and for himself is wise.

"Yes, happy Child! I mark th' approaching Day,
When warring Natures will confess thy Sway;
When thou shalt Saturn's golden Reign restore,
And Vice and Folly shall be known no more.

"Pride shall not then in human Kind have place,
Changed by thy Skill, to Dignity and Grace;
While Shame, who now betrays the inward Sense
Of secret Ill, shall be thy Diffidence;
Avarice shall thenceforth prudent Forecast be,
And bloody Vengeance, Magnanimity;
The lavish Tongue shall honest Truths impart,
The lavish Hand shall show the generous Heart,
And Indiscretion be, Contempt of Art:
Folly and Vice shall then, no longer known,
Be, this as Virtue, that as Wisdom, shown.

"Then shall the Robber, as the Hero rise
To seize the Good that churlish Law denies;
Throughout the World, shall rove the generous Band,
And deal the Gifts of Heaven, from hand to hand.

"In thy blest Days no Tyrants shall be seen,
Thy gracious King shall rule contented Men;
In thy blest Days, shall not a Rebel be,
But Patriots all and well-approv'd of thee.

"Such Powers are thine, that Man, by thee, shall wrest
The gainful Secret from the cautious Breast;
Nor then, with all his care, the Good retain,
But yield to thee, the Secret and the Gain.
In vain shall much Experience guard the Heart,
Against the Charm of thy prevailing Art;
Admitted once, so soothing is thy Strain,
It comes the sweeter, when it comes again;
And when confest as thine, what Mind so strong
Forbears the Pleasure it indulg'd so long?

"Soft'ner of every Ill! of all our Woes
The balmy Solace! Friend of fiercest Foes!
Begin thy Reign, and like the Morning rise!
Bring Joy, bring Beauty, to our eager Eyes;
Break on the drowsy World like opening Day,
While Grace and Gladness join thy flow'ry Way;
While every Voice is Praise, while every Heart is gay.

"From thee all Prospects shall new Beauties take,
'Tis thine to seek them, and 'tis thine to make;
On the cold Fen, I see thee turn thine Eyes,
Its Mists recede, its chilling Vapour flies;
Th' enraptured Lord, th' improving Ground surveys,
And for his Eden, asks the Traveller's Praise,
Which yet, unview'd of thee, a Bog had been,
Where spungy Rushes hide the plashy Green.

"I see thee breathing on the barren Moor,
That seems to bloom, although so bleak before;
There if beneath the Gorze the Primrose spring,
Or the pied Daisy smile below the Ling,
They shall new Charms, at thy Command disclose,
And none shall miss the Myrtle or the Rose.
The wiry Moss, that whitens all the Hill,
Shall live a Beauty by thy matchless Skill;
Gale from the Bog shall yield Arabian Balm,
And the Grey Willow wave a golden Palm.

"I see thee, smiling in the pictur'd Room,
Now breathing Beauty, now reviving Bloom;
There, each immortal Name, 'tis thine to give,
To graceless Forms, and bid the Lumber live.
Should'st thou coarse Boors or gloomy Martyrs see,
These shall thy Guidos, those thy Teniers be;
There shalt thou Raphael's Saints and Angels trace,
There make for Rubens and for Reynolds place,
And all the Pride of Art shall find in her, Disgrace.

"Delight of either Sex! thy Reign commence;
With balmy Sweetness, soothe the weary Sense,
And to the sickening Soul thy cheering Aid dispense.
Queen of the Mind! thy golden Age begin;
In mortal Bosoms, varnish Shame and Sin;
Let all be fair without, let all be calm within."

The vision fled, the happy Mother rose,
Kiss'd the fair Infant, smiled at all her Foes,
And FLATTERY made her Name: — Her Reign began,
Her own dear Sex she rul'd, then vanquish'd Man;
A smiling Friend, to every Class, she spoke,
Assumed their Manners and their Habits took;
Her, for her humble Mien, the Modest lov'd;
Her cheerful Looks, the Light and Gay approv'd;
The Just beheld her, firm; the Valiant, brave;
Her Mirth the Free, her Silence pleas'd the Grave;
Zeal heard her Voice, and as he preach'd aloud,
Well-pleas'd he caught her Whispers from the Crowd,
(Those Whispers soothing-sweet to every Ear,
Which some refuse to pay, but none to hear):
Shame fled her Presence; at her gentle Strain,
Care softly smil'd, and Guilt forgot its Pain;
The Wretched thought, the Happy found her true,
The Learn'd confess'd that she their Merits knew;
The Rich — could they a constant Friend condemn?
The Poor believ'd — for who should flatter them?

Thus on her Name though all Disgrace attend,
In every Creature she beholds a Friend.

[pp. 191-205]