"The Cold Charities Of Man To Man"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The poet begins by saying that the usual pastoral poem bears not the faintest resemblance to reality; instead of being based on observation of the country and its folk, it is wholly derived from classical writers, such as Virgil. He gives a description of the land, which is evidently that along the English Channel, in which region Crabbe was born and bred. He finds the soil sandy, thin, and sterile, and covered with the plants that grow only on barren ground. And the people are far different from those in the pastoral idyls. Instead of devoting themselves to happy rural sports and piping gaily, they sweat the long day through in back-breaking toil. Their pains are not the amorous ones of the poets, but actual physical pains of bones, muscles, and sinews. Nor do they sit down to the plain but plentiful repasts of the songs: their diet is sparse and pinching and those who sing of it would not deign to touch it. As a result of what they have to live on, they are highly susceptible to disease. When a man grows old, his miseries increase; he can be useful only in some sedentary labor such as herding sheep. Or he can resort to the poorhouse, truly the dwelling place of misery, where the most enviable inmates are the idiots who do not feel hardships. It is here that the cold charities of man to man are dispensed amidst scenes of unimaginable squalor.

Here too the sick their final doom receive,
Here brought, amid the scenes of grief, to grieve,
Where the loud groans from some sad chamber flow,
Mix'd with the clamours of the crowd below;
Here, sorrowing, they each kindred sorrow scan,
And the cold charities of man to man:
Whose laws indeed for ruin'd age provide,
And strong compulsion plucks the scrap from pride;
But still that scrap is bought with many a sigh,
And pride embitters what it can't deny.