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CRABBE'S BOROUGH: THE PROCESS OF MONTAGE W. K. THOMAS I When, in the second letter of The Borough, George Crabbe describes the tower of the Borough's church, he concludes his description with some puzzling details: But ours yet stands, and has its bells renown'd For size magnificent and solemn sound. Each has its motto : some contrived to tell, In monkish rhyme, the uses of a bellSuch wond'rous good, as few conceive could spring From ten loud coppers when their clappers swing. (II, 85-90) T en loud coppers: a remarkable number indeed. Many readers have assumed that when Crabbe described his Borough, he used for his model the seaside town of Aldborough, in Suffolk. But in 1806 certainly, and presumably in 18IO when The Borough was published, the Aldborough church had only five bells, and even one of those was unhung1 If Crabbe was in fact describing the Aldborough church, how could he have made such an error? Mter all, he had attended the church from infancy to early manhood, and indeed had served in it for a year as curate? Besides, if he had ever climbed the tower to see the magnificent view from the top (and surely he had), he would have passed by the bell cage, where the bells are hung in open view. Moreover, even if for some unlikely reason he did not know how many bells there were in the Aldborough tower, why should he have chosen the particular number ten; why not six or eight, or nine or twelve, anyone of which would have fitted the length of line just as well? It is a curious fact that, although churches with ten bells were rare in Crabbe's time (indeed they still are), he may well, for a variety of reasons, have known four of them by the time he came to write The Borough. In the parishes in which he had served, either as priest or as surgeon-apothecary, none of the churches had more than six bells.' But it is noteworthy that the church of St. Wulfram, in Grantham (5Yz Volume XXXVI, Ntunber 2. Jammry. 1967 182 W . K. THOMAS miles from Crabbe's cure in Muston, Leicestershire), had a ring of ten bells, and it is especially noteworthy that in 1775 the Duke of Rutland (Crabbe's patron-to-be) contributed £,100 towards the purchase of the bells, at which time the church became famous for its change-ringing. It is not unlikely that both the fame and the contribution were mentioned more than once in the Duke's household at Belvoir Castle during Crabbe's residence there as chaplain a few years later. It is also noteworthy that in the town of Beccles, in Suffolk, which Crabbe had frequently visited in order to see his paneee, the church of St. Michael likewise had ten bells. Furthermore, in 1785 a ring of ten bells was cast for St. James, in Bury St. Edmunds, and two years later the same was done for St. Martin's, in Leicester: undoubtedly the local press carried reports of these castings.' In view of the foregoing, it would appear reasonable to conclude that, when equipping his Borough church with ten bells, Crabbe did not have in mind the Aldborough church (which had only five), and that, instead of picking a number out of the air, he probably drew upon one or more of the larger churches with which he had become acquainted. But this is not the whole story, for there is also evident in his mention of tlle "ten loud coppers" a certain touch of sly derision, a tone which can be accounted for after we examine another curious aspect of the bells. In the passage already quoted, Crabbe says that each of the ten bells has a motto and that some of the mottoes, in rhymed Latin, clainl wondrous power for the' bells on which they are inscribed. In reality, however, only two churches in the three counties in which Crabbe had lived or served possessed even six bells, each with a motto; and none of these mottoes fitted his description of "wond'rous good."· Fortunately we can probably tell...


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