"The Game Is Never Lost Till Won"
Context: The Reverend George Crabbe, an early exponent of realism, disliked intensely the old rustic and pastoral poetic convention that idealized village life; he was equally averse to the newer and oversentimentalized approach of romanticism. His revolt took the form of a harsh, starkly cheerless view of rural existence and of those who endured it. At times his reaction to sentimentality is such that the lives he depicts are sagas of unrelieved anguish–an equally unrealistic point of view. His first major work was The Village, a satirical reply to Goldsmith's The Deserted Village, which emphasizes the condition of the poor. This was followed by The Parish Register, a chain of connected tales about the lives, from birth to death, of the poor people in Crabbe's parish. Tales of the Hall deals with life on a somewhat higher level of society, but the lives of its characters are for the most part unenviable. The poem is a loosely woven biography of Richard, a man whose older brother George has acquired the Hall at Binning and invited him there. Into this biography are woven the stories of various people who live at the Hall or visit there, or whose lives impinge upon those of George and Richard. In Book XV, entitled "Gretna Green," Richard meets an old friend who seems cool and distant; he asks George why this should be so. George obliges with the story of James Belwood, a young man who wed unwisely. Belwood is both weak and self-indulgent, and the girl he married, Clara, is a spoiled local beauty. To him she is but an expensive new toy; and her only desire is to be envied by other women. He had met her at a school conducted by her father. The inevitable quarrel arises; she wishes to visit her parents and he objects. The parents, meanwhile, are consumed by misgivings. The mother, feeling her daughter is a mere captive, upbraids the father. He replies, truthfully enough, that it was she who encouraged the match:
"Had you o'erawed and check'd them when in sight,They would not then have ventured upon flight–Had you"–"Out, serpent! did you not begin?What! introduce, and then upbraid the sin?For sin it is, as I too well perceive:But leave me, woman, to reflection leave;Then to your closet fly, and on your kneesBeg for forgiveness for such sins as these.""A moody morning!" with a careless airReplied the wife–"Why counsel me to prayer?I think the lord and teacher of a schoolShould pray himself, and keep his temper cool."Calm grew the husband when the wife was gone–"The game," said he, "is never lost till won:'Tis true, the rebels fly their proper home,They come not nigh, because they fear to come;And for my purpose fear will doubtless proveOf more importance and effect than love, . . ."