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Crabbe, (George) by Alfred Ainger

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Perhaps if he had brought a little imagination to bear upon his
relations with Muston and Allington, Crabbe would not have deserted his
people so soon after coming among them. The stop made him many enemies.
For here was no case of a poor curate accepting, for his family's sake,
a more lucrative post. Crabbe was leaving the Vale of Belvoir because an
accession of fortune had befallen the family, and it was pleasanter to
live in his native county and in a better house. So, at least, his
action was interpreted at the time, and Crabbe's son takes no very
different view. "Though tastes and affections, as well as worldly
interests, prompted this return to native scenes and early
acquaintances, it was a step reluctantly taken, and I believe, sincerely
repented of. The beginning was ominous. As we were slowly quitting the
place preceded by our furniture, a stranger, though one who knew my
father's circumstances, called out in an impressive tone, 'You are
wrong, you are wrong!'" The sound, he afterwards admitted, found an echo
in his own conscience, and during the whole journey seemed to ring in
his ears "like a supernatural voice."


[Footnote 2: See a pleasant paper on Crabbe at Muston and Allington by
the Rev. W.H. Hutton of St John's College, Oxford, in the _Cornhill
Magazine_ for June 1901.]




On the arrival of the family at Parham, poor Crabbe discovered that even
an accession of fortune had its attendant drawbacks. His son, George,
records his own recollections (he was then a child of seven years) of
the scene that met their view on their alighting at Parham Lodge. "As I
got out of the chaise, I remember jumping for very joy, and exclaiming,
'Here we are, here we are--little Willy and all!'"--(his parents'
seventh and youngest child, then only a few weeks old)--"but my spirits
sunk into dismay when, on entering the well-known kitchen, all there
seemed desolate, dreary, and silent. Mrs. Tovell and her sister-in-law,
sitting by the fireside weeping, did not even rise up to welcome my
parents, but uttered a few chilling words and wept again. All this
appeared to me as inexplicable as forbidding. How little do children
dream of the alterations that older people's feelings towards each other
undergo, when death has caused a transfer of property! Our arrival in
Suffolk was by no means palatable to all my mother's relations."

Mr. Tovell's widow had doubtless her suitable jointure, and probably a
modest dower-residence to retire to; but Parham Hall had to be vacated,
and Crabbe, having purchased its furniture, at once entered on
possession. The mere re-arrangement of the contents caused many
heartburnings to the spinster-sister, who had known them under the old
_regime_, and the alteration of the hanging of a picture would have made
"Jacky," she averred, to turn in his grave. Crabbe seems, however, to
have shown so much good-feeling and forbearance in the matter that the
old lady, after grimly boasting that she could "screw Crabbe up and down
like a fiddle," was ultimately friendly, and her share of her brother's
estate came in due course to Crabbe and his wife. Moreover, the change
of tenancy at the Hall was anything but satisfactory to the village
generally. Mr. Tovell had been much given to hospitality, and that of a
convivial sort. Such of the neighbours as were of kindred tastes had
been in the habit of "dropping in" of an evening two or three times a
week, when, if a _quorum_ was present, a bowl of punch would be brewed,
and sometimes a second and a third. The substitution for all this of the
quiet and decorous family life of the Crabbes was naturally a hoary blow
and grave discouragement to the village reveller, and contributed to
make Crabbe's life at starting far from happy. His pursuits and
inclinations, literary as well as clerical, made such company
distasteful; and his wife, who had borne him seven children in nine
years, and of these had lost four in infancy, had little strength or
heart for miscellaneous company. But there was compensation for her
husband among the county gentry of the neighbourhood, and notably in the
constant kindness of Dudley North, of Little Glemham Hall, the same
friend who had helped him with money when twelve years before he had
left Aldeburgh, an almost penniless adventurer, to try his fortune in
London. At Mr. North's table Crabbe had once more the opportunity of
meeting members of the Whig party, whom he had known through Burke. On
one such occasion Fox expressed his regret that Crabbe had ceased to
write, and offered his help in revising any future poem that he might
produce. The promise was not forgotten when ten years later _The Parish
Register_ was in preparation.

During his first year at Parham, Crabbe does not appear to have
undertaken any fixed clerical duties, and this interval of leisure
allowed him to pay a long visit to his sister at Aldeburgh, and here he
placed his two elder boys, George and John, at a dame school. On
returning to Parham, he accepted the office of curate-in-charge at
Sweffling, the rector, Rev. Richard Turner, being resident at his other
living of Great Yarmouth. The curacy of Great Glemham, also within easy
reach, was shortly added. Crabbe was still residing at Parham Lodge, but
the incidents of such residence remained far from pleasant, and, after
four years there, Crabbe joyfully accepted the offer of a good house at
Great Glemham, placed at his disposal by his friend Dudley North. Here
the family remained for a further period of four or five years.

A fresh bereavement in his family had made Crabbe additionally anxious
for change of scene and associations for his wife. In 1796, another
child died--their third son, Edmund--in his sixth year. Two children,
out of a family of seven, alone remained; and this final blow proved
more than the poor mother could bear uninjured. From this time dated "a
nervous disorder," which indeed meant a gradual decay of mental power,
from which she never recovered; and Crabbe, an ever-devoted husband,
tended her with exemplary care till her death in 1813. Southey, writing
about Crabbe to his friend, Neville White, in 1808, adds: "It was not
long before his wife became deranged, and when all this was told me by
one who knew him well, five years ago, he was still almost confined in
his own house, anxiously waiting upon this wife in her long and hopeless
malady. A sad history! It is no wonder that he gives so melancholy a
picture of human life."

Save for Mrs. Crabbe's broken health and increasing melancholy, the four
years at Glemham were among the most peaceful and happiest of Crabbe's
life. His son grows eloquent over the elegance of the house and the
natural beauties of its situation. "A small well-wooded park occupied
the whole mouth of the glen, whence, doubtless, the name of the village
was derived. In the lowest ground stood the commodious mansion; the
approach wound down through a plantation on the eminence in front. The
opposite hill rose at the back of it, rich and varied with trees and
shrubs scattered irregularly; under this southern hill ran a brook, and
on the banks above it were spots of great natural beauty, crowned by
whitethorn and oak. Here the purple scented violet perfumed the air, and
in one place coloured the ground. On the left of the front in the
narrower portion of the glen was the village; on the right, a confined
view of richly wooded fields. In fact, the whole parish and
neighbourhood resemble a combination of groves, interspersed with fields
cultivated like gardens, and intersected with those green dry lanes
which tempt the walker in all weathers, especially in the evenings, when
in the short grass of the dry sandy banks lies every few yards a
glowworm, and the nightingales are pouring forth their melody in every

It was not, therefore, for lack of acquaintance with the more idyllic
side of English country-life that Crabbe, when he once more addressed
the public in verse, turned to the less sunny memories of his youth for
inspiration. It was not till some years after the appearance of _The
Parish Register_ and _The Borough_ that the pleasant paths of inland
Suffolk and of the Vale of Belvoir formed the background to his studies
in human character.

Meantime Crabbe was perpetually writing, and as constantly destroying
what he wrote. His small flock at Great and Little Glemham employed part
of his time; the education of his two sons, who were now withdrawn from
school, occupied some more; and a wife in failing health was certainly
not neglected. But the busy husband and father found time to teach
himself something of French and Italian, and read aloud to his family of
an evening as many books of travel and of fiction as his friends would
keep him supplied with. He was preparing at the same time a treatise on
botany, which was never to see the light; and during "one or two of his
winters in Suffolk," his son relates, "he gave most of his evening hours
to the writing of novels, and he brought not less than three such works
to a conclusion. The first was entitled 'The Widow Grey,' but I
recollect nothing of it except that the principal character was a
benevolent humorist, a Dr. Allison. The next was called 'Reginald
Glanshaw, or the Man who commanded Success,' a portrait of an assuming,
over-bearing, ambitious mind, rendered interesting by some generous
virtues, and gradually wearing down into idiotism. I cannot help
thinking that this Glanshaw was drawn with very extraordinary power; but
the story was not well managed in the details I forget the title of his
third novel; but I clearly remember that it opened with a description of
a wretched room, similar to some that are presented in his poetry, and
that on my mother's telling him frankly that she thought the effect very
inferior to that of the corresponding pieces in verse, he paused in his
reading, and after some reflection, said, 'Your remark is just.'"

Mrs. Crabbe's remark was probably very just. Although her husband had
many qualifications for writing prose fiction--insight into and
appreciation of character, combined with much tragic force and a real
gift for description--there is reason to think that he would have been
stilted and artificial in dialogue, and altogether wanting in lightness
of hand. Crabbe acquiesced in his wife's decision, and the novels were
cremated without a murmur. A somewhat similar fate attended a set of
Tales in Verse which, in the year 1799, Crabbe was about to offer to Mr.
Hatchard, the publisher, when he wisely took the opinion of his rector
at Sweffling, then resident at Yarmouth, the Rev. Richard Turner[3].
This gentleman, whose opinion Crabbe greatly valued, advised _revision_,
and Crabbe accepted the verdict as the reverse of encouraging. The Tales
were never published, and Crabbe again deferred his reappearance in
print for a period of eight years. Meantime he applied himself to the
leisurely composition of the _Parish Register_, which extended, together
with that of some shorter poems, over the period just named.

In the last years of the eighteenth century there was a sudden awakening
among the bishops to the growing abuse of non-residence and pluralities
on the part of the clergy. One prelate of distinction devoted his
triennial charge to the subject, and a general "stiffening" of episcopal
good nature set in all round. The Bishop of Lincoln addressed Crabbe,
with others of his delinquent clergy, and intimated to him very
distinctly the duty of returning to those few sheep in the wilderness at
Muston and Allington. Crabbe, in much distress, applied to his friend
Dudley North to use influence on his behalf to obtain extension of
leave. But the bishop, Dr. Pretyman (Pitt's tutor and friend--better
known by the name he afterwards adopted of Tomlins) would not yield, and
it was probably owing to pressure from some different quarter that
Crabbe succeeded in obtaining leave of absence for four years longer.
Dudley North would fain have solved the problem by giving Crabbe one or
more of the livings in his own gift in Suffolk, but none of adequate
value was vacant at the time. Meanwhile, the house rented by Crabbe,
Great Glemham Hall, was sold over Crabbe's head, by family arrangements
in the North family, and he made his last move while in Suffolk, by
taking a house in the neighbouring village of Rendham, where he remained
during his last four years. Crabbe was looking forward to his elder
son's going up to Cambridge in 1803, and this formed an additional
reason for wishing to remain as long as might be in the eastern

The writing of poetry seems to have gone on apace. _The Parish Register_
was all but completed while at Rendham, and _The Borough_ was also
begun. After so long an abstinence from the glory of print, Crabbe at
last found the required stimulus to ambition in the need of some further
income for his two sons' education. But during the last winter of his
residence at Rendham (1804-1805), Crabbe produced a poem, in stanzas, of
very different character and calibre from anything he had yet written,
and as to the origin of which one must go back to some previous
incidents in Crabbe's history. His son is always lax as to dates, and
often just at those periods when they would be the most welcome. It may
be inferred, however, that at some date between 1790 and 1792 Crabbe
suffered from serious derangements of his digestion, attended by sudden
and acute attacks of vertigo. The passage in the memoir as to the exact
period is more than usually vague. The writer is dealing with the year
1800, and he proceeds:

"My father, now about his forty-sixth year, was much
more stout and healthy than when I first remember him.
Soon after that early period he became subject to vertigoes,
which he thought indicative of a tendency to apoplexy; and
was occasionally bled rather profusely, which only increased
the symptoms. When he preached his first sermon at Muston
in the year 1789 my mother foreboded, as she afterwards told
us, that he would preach very few more: but it was on one
of his early journeys into Suffolk, in passing through Ipswich,
that he had the most alarming attack."

This account of matters is rather mixed. The "early period" pointed to
by young Crabbe is that at which he himself first had distinct
recollection of his father, and his doings. Putting that age at six
years old, the year would be 1791; and it may be inferred that as the
whole family paid a visit of many months to Suffolk in the year 1790, it
was during that visit that he had the decisive attack in the streets of
Ipswich. The account may be continued in the son's own words:--

"Having left my mother at the inn, he walked into the
town alone, and suddenly staggered in the street, and fell.
He was lifted up by the passengers" (probably from the stagecoach
from which they had just alighted), "and overheard
some one say significantly, 'Let the gentleman alone, he will
be better by and by'; for his fall was attributed to the
bottle. He was assisted to his room, and the late Dr. Clubbe
was sent for, who, after a little examination, saw through the
case with great judgment. 'There is nothing the matter with
your head,' he observed, 'nor any apoplectic tendency; let
the digestive organs bear the whole blame: you must take
opiates.' From that time his health began to amend rapidly,
and his constitution was renovated; a rare effect of opium,
for that drug almost always inflicts some partial injury, even
when it is necessary; but to him it was only salutary--and
to a constant but slightly increasing dose of it may be attributed
his long and generally healthy life."

The son makes no reference to any possible effects of this "slightly
increasing dose" upon his father's intellect or imagination. And the
ordinary reader who knows the poet mainly through his sober couplets may
well be surprised to hear that their author was ever addicted to the
opium-habit; still more, that his imagination ever owed anything to its
stimulus. But in FitzGerald's copy there is a MS. note, not signed
"G.C.," and therefore FitzGerald's own. It runs thus: "It" (the opium)
"probably influenced his dreams, for better or worse" To this FitzGerald
significantly adds, "see also the _World of Dreams_, and _Sir Eustace

As Crabbe is practically unknown to the readers of the present day, _Sir
Eustace Grey_ will be hardly even a name to them. For it lies, with two
or three other noticeable poems, quite out of the familiar track of his
narrative verse. In the first place it is in stanzas, and what Browning
would have classed as a "Dramatic Lyric." The subject is as follows: The
scene "a Madhouse," and the persons a Visitor, a Physician, and a
Patient. The visitor has been shown over the establishment, and is on
the point of departing weary and depressed at the sight of so much
misery, when the physician begs him to stay as they come in sight of the
"cell" of a specially interesting patient, Sir Eustace Grey, late of
Greyling Hall. Sir Eustace greets them as they approach, plunges at once
into monologue, and relates (with occasional warnings from the doctor
against over-excitement) the sad story of his misfortunes and consequent
loss of reason. He begins with a description of his happier days:--

"Some twenty years, I think, are gone
(Time flies, I know not how, away),
The sun upon no happier shone
Nor prouder man, than Eustace Grey.
Ask where you would, and all would say,
The man admired and praised of all,
By rich and poor, by grave and gay,
Was the young lord of Greyling Hall.

"Yes! I had youth and rosy health,
Was nobly formed, as man might be;
For sickness, then, of all my wealth,
I never gave a single fee:
The ladies fair, the maidens free.
Were all accustomed then to say,
Who would a handsome figure see,
Should look upon Sir Eustace Grey.

"My lady I--She was all we love;
All praise, to speak her worth, is faint;
Her manners show'd the yielding dove,
Her morals, the seraphic saint:
She never breathed nor looked complaint;
No equal upon earth had she:
Now, what is this fair thing I paint?
Alas! as all that live shall be.

"There were two cherub-things beside,
A gracious girl, a glorious boy;
Yet more to swell my fall-blown pride,
To varnish higher my fading joy,
Pleasures were ours without alloy,
Nay, Paradise,--till my frail Eve
Our bliss was tempted to destroy--
Deceived, and fated to deceive.

"But I deserved;--for all that time
When I was loved, admired, caressed,
There was within each secret crime,
Unfelt, uncancelled, unconfessed:
I never then my God addressed,
In grateful praise or humble prayer;
And if His Word was not my jest--
(Dread thought!) it never was my care."

The misfortunes of the unhappy man proceed apace, and blow follows blow.
He is unthankful for his blessings, and Heaven's vengeance descends on
him. His wife proves faithless, and he kills her betrayer, once his
trusted friend. The wretched woman pines and dies, and the two children
take some infectious disease and quickly follow. The sufferer turns to
his wealth and his ambitions to drug his memory. But "walking in pride,"
he is to be still further "abased." The "Watcher and the Holy One" that
visited Nebuchadnezzar come to Sir Eustace in vision and pronounce his

"Full be his cup, with evil fraught--
Demons his guides, and death his doom."

Two fiends of darkness are told off to tempt him. One, presumably the
Spirit of Gambling, robs him of his wealth, while the Spirit of Mania
takes from him his reason, and drags him through a hell of horriblest
imaginings. And it is at this point that what has been called the
"dream-scenery" of the opium-eater is reproduced in a series of very
remarkable stanzas:

Upon that boundless plain, below,
The setting sun's last rays were shed,
And gave a mild and sober glow,
Where all were still, asleep, or dead;
Vast ruins in the midst were spread,
Pillars and pediments sublime,
Where the grey moss had form'd a bed,
And clothed the crumbling spoils of time.

"There was I fix'd, I know not how,
Condemn'd for untold years to stay:
Yet years were not;--one dreadful _Now_
Endured no change of night or day;
The same mild evening's sleepy ray
Shone softly-solemn and serene,
And all that time I gazed away,
The setting sun's sad rays were seen.

"At length a moment's sleep stole on,--
Again came my commission'd foes;
Again through sea and land we're gone,
No peace, no respite, no repose:
Above the dark broad sea we rose,
We ran through bleak and frozen land;
I had no strength their strength t' oppose,
An infant in a giant's hand.

"They placed me where those streamers play,
Those nimble beams of brilliant light;
It would the stoutest heart dismay,
To see, to feel, that dreadful sight:
So swift, so pure, so cold, so bright,
They pierced my frame with icy wound;
And all that half-year's polar night,
Those dancing streamers wrapp'd me round

"Slowly that darkness pass'd away,
When down, upon the earth I fell,--
Some hurried sleep was mine by day;
But, soon as toll'd the evening bell,
They forced me on, where ever dwell
Far-distant men in cities fair,
Cities of whom no travellers tell,
Nor feet but mine were wanderers there

"Their watchmen stare, and stand aghast,
As on we hurry through the dark;
The watch-light blinks as we go past,
The watch-dog shrinks and fears to bark;
The watch-tower's bell sounds shrill; and, hark!
The free wind blows--we've left the town--
A wide sepulchral ground I mark,
And on a tombstone place me down.

"What monuments of mighty dead!
What tombs of various kind are found!
And stones erect their shadows shed
On humble graves, with wickers bound;
Some risen fresh, above the ground,
Some level with the native clay:
What sleeping millions wait the sound,
'Arise, ye dead, and come away!'

Alas! they stay not for that call;
Spare me this woe! ye demons, spare!--
They come! the shrouded shadows all,--
'Tis more than mortal brain can bear;
Rustling they rise, they sternly glare
At man upheld by vital breath;
Who, led by wicked fiends, should dare
To join the shadowy troops of death!"

For about fifteen stanzas this power of wild imaginings is sustained,
and, it must be admitted, at a high level as regards diction. The reader
will note first how the impetuous flow of those visionary recollections
generates a style in the main so lofty and so strong. The poetic diction
of the eighteenth century, against which Wordsworth made his famous
protest, is entirely absent. Then again, the eight-line stanza is
something quite different from a mere aggregate of quatrains arranged in
pairs. The lines are knit together; sonnet-fashion, by the device of
interlacing the rhymes, the second, fourth, fifth, and seventh lines
rhyming. And it is singularly effective for its purpose, that of
avoiding the suggestion of a mere ballad-measure, and carrying on the
descriptive action with as little interruption as might be.

The similarity of the illusions, here attributed to insanity, to those
described by De Quincey as the result of opium, is too marked to be
accidental. In the concluding pages of his _Confessions_, De Quincey
writes: "The sense of space, and in the end the sense of time, were
both powerfully affected. Buildings, landscapes, etc., were exhibited in
proportions so vast as the bodily eye is not fitted to receive ... This
disturbed me very much less than the vast expansion of time. Sometimes I
seemed to have lived for seventy or a hundred years in one night."

Compare Crabbe's sufferer:--

"There was I fix'd, I know not how,
Condemn'd for untold years to stay
Yet years were not;--one dreadful _Now_
Endured no change of night or day."

Again, the rapid transition from one distant land to another, from the
Pole to the Tropics, is common to both experiences. The "ill-favoured
ones" who are charged with Sir Eustace's expiation fix him at one moment

"--on the trembling ball
That crowns the steeple's quiv'ring spire"

just as the Opium-Fiend fixes De Quincey for centuries at the summit of
Pagodas. Sir Eustace is accused of sins he had never committed:--

"Harmless I was: yet hunted down
For treasons to my soul unfit;
I've been pursued through many a town
For crimes that petty knaves commit."

Even so the opium-eater imagines himself flying from the wrath of
Oriental Deities. "I came suddenly upon Isis and Osiris: I had done a
deed, they said, which the Ibis and the Crocodile trembled at." The
morbid inspiration is clearly the same in both cases, and there can be
little doubt that Crabbe's poem owes its inception to opium, and that
the frame work was devised by him for the utilisation of his dreams.

But a curious and unexpected _denouement_ awaits the reader. When Sir
Eustace's condition, as he describes it, seems most hopeless, its
alleviation arrives through a religious conversion. There has been
throughout present to him the conscience of "a soul defiled with every
stain." And at the same moment, under circumstances unexplained, his
spiritual ear is purged to hear a "Heavenly Teacher." The voice takes
the form of the touching and effective hymn, which has doubtless found a
place since in many an evangelical hymn-book, beginning

"Pilgrim, burthen'd with thy sin,
Come the way to Zion's gate;
There, till Mercy let thee in,
Knock and weep, and watch and wait.
Knock!--He knows the sinner's cry.
Weep!--He loves the mourner's tears.
Watch!--for saving grace is nigh
Wait,--till heavenly light appears."

And the hymn is followed by the pathetic confession on the sufferer's
part that this blessed experience, though it has brought him the
assurance of heavenly forgiveness, still leaves him, "though elect,"
looking sadly back on his old prosperity, and bearing, but unresigned,
the prospect of an old ago spent amid his present gloomy surroundings.
And yet Crabbe, with a touch of real imaginative insight, represents him
in his final utterance as relapsing into a vague hope of some day being
restored to his old prosperity:

"Must you, my friends, no longer stay?
Thus quickly all my pleasures end;
But I'll remember, when I pray,
My kind physician and his friend:

And those sad hours you deign to spend
With me, I shall requite them all.
Sir Eustace for his friends shall send,
And thank their love at Greyling Hall."[4]

The kind physician and his friend then proceed to diagnose the patient's
condition--which they agree is that of "a frenzied child of grace," and
so the poem ends. To one of its last stanzas Crabbe attached an
apologetic note, one of the most remarkable ever penned. It exhibits the
struggle that at that period must have been proceeding in many a
thoughtful breast as to how the new wine of religion could be somehow
accommodated to the old bottles:--

"It has been suggested to me that this change from restlessness to
repose in the mind of Sir Eustace is wrought by a methodistic call; and
it is admitted to be such: a sober and rational conversion could not
have happened while the disorder of the brain continued; yet the verses
which follow, in a different measure," (Crabbe refers to the hymn) "are
not intended to make any religious persuasion appear ridiculous; they
are to be supposed as the effect of memory in the disordered mind of the
speaker, and though evidently enthusiastic in respect to language, are
not meant to convey any impropriety of sentiment."

The implied suggestion (for it comes to this) that the sentiments of
this devotional hymn, written by Crabbe himself, could only have brought
comfort to the soul of a lunatic, is surely as good a proof as the
period could produce of the bewilderment in the Anglican mind caused by
the revival of personal religion under Wesley and his followers.

According to Crabbe's son _Sir Eustace Grey_ was written at Muston in
the winter of 1804-1805. This is scarcely possible, for Crabbe did not
return to his Leicestershire living until the autumn of the latter year.
Probably the poem was begun in Suffolk, and the final touches were added
later. Crabbe seems to have told his family that it was written during a
severe snow-storm, and at one sitting. As the poem consists of
fifty-five eight-lined stanzas, of somewhat complex construction, the
accuracy of Crabbe's account is doubtful. If its inspiration was in some
degree due to opium, we know from the example of S.T. Coleridge that the
opium-habit is not favourable to certainty of memory or the accurate
presentation of facts. After Crabbe's death, there was found in one of
his many manuscript note-books a copy of verses, undated, entitled _The
World of Dreams_, which his son printed in subsequent editions of the
poems. The verses are in the same metre and rhyme-system as _Sir
Eustace_, and treat of precisely the same class of visions as recorded
by the inmate of the asylum. The rapid and continuous transition from
scene to scene, and period to period, is the same in both. Foreign kings
and other potentates reappear, as with De Quincey, in ghostly and
repellent forms:--

"I know not how, but I am brought
Into a large and Gothic hall,
Seated with those I never sought--
Kings, Caliphs, Kaisers--silent all;
Pale as the dead; enrobed and tall,
Majestic, frozen, solemn, still;
They make my fears, my wits appal,
And with both scorn and terror fill."

This, again, may be compared, or rather contrasted, with Coleridge's
_Pains of Sleep_, and it can hardly be doubted that the two poems had a
common origin.

The year 1805 was the last of Crabbe's sojourn in Suffolk, and it was
made memorable in the annals of literature by the appearance of the _Lay
of the Last Minstrel_. Crabbe first met with it in a bookseller's shop
in Ipswich, read it nearly through while standing at the counter, and
pronounced that a new and great poet had appeared.

This was Crabbe's first introduction to one who was before long to prove
himself one of his warmest admirers and friends. It was one of Crabbe's
virtues that he was quick to recognise the worth of his poetical
contemporaries. He had been repelled, with many others, by the weak side
of the _Lyrical Ballads_, but he lived to revere Wordsworth's genius.
His admiration for Burns was unstinted. But amid all the signs of a
poetical _renaissance_ in progress, and under a natural temptation to
tread the fresh woods and pictures new that were opening before him, it
showed a true judgment in Crabbe that he never faltered in the
conviction that his own opportunity and his own strength lay elsewhere.
Not in the romantic or the mystical--not in perfection of form or melody
of lyric verse, were his own humbler triumphs to be won. Like
Wordsworth, he was to find a sufficiency in the "common growth of
mother-earth," though indeed less in her "mirth" than in her "tears,"
Notwithstanding his _Eustace Grey_, and _World of Dreams_, and the
really powerful story of Aaron the Gipsy (afterwards to appear as the
_The Hall of Justice_), Crabbe was returning to the themes and the
methods of _The Village_. He had already completed _The Parish
Register_, and had _The Borough_ in contemplation, when he returned to
his Leicestershire parish. The woods of Belvoir, and the rural charms of
Parham and Glemham, had not dimmed the memory of the sordid little
fishing-town, where the spirit of poetry had first met him, and thrown
her mantle round him.

And now the day had come when the mandate of the bishop could no longer
be ignored. In October 1805, Crabbe with his wife and two sons returned
to the Parsonage at Muston. He had been absent from his joint livings
about thirteen years, of which four had been spent at Parham, five at
Great Glemham, and four at Rendham, all three places lying within a
small area, and within reach of the same old friends and relations. No
wonder that he left the neighbourhood with a reluctance that was
probably too well guessed by his parishioners in the Vale of Belvoir.


[Footnote 3: Richard Turner of Yarmouth was a man of considerable
culture, and belonged to a family of scholars. His eldest brother was
Master of Pembroke, Cambridge, and Dean of Norwich: his youngest son was
Sir Charles Turner, a Lord Justice of Appeal; and Dawson Turner was his
nephew. Richard Turner was the intimate friend of Dr. Parr, Paley, and

[Footnote 4: Readers of Lockhart's Biography will remember that in one
of Scott's latest letters to his son-in-law, before he left England for
Naples, he quoted and applied to himself this stanza of _Sir Eustace
Grey_. The incident is the more pathetic that Scott, as he wrote the
words, was quite aware that his own mind was failing.]




"When in October, 1805, Mr. Crabbe resumed the charge of his own parish
of Muston, he found some changes to vex him, and not the less because he
had too much reason to suspect that his long absence from his incumbency
had been, partly at least, the cause of them. His cure had been served
by respectable and diligent clergymen, but they had been often changed,
and some of them had never resided within the parish; and he felt that
the binding influence of a settled and permanent minister had not been
withdrawn for twelve years with impunity. A Wesleyan missionary had
formed a thriving establishment in Muston, and the congregations at the
parish church were no longer such as they had been of old. This much
annoyed my father; and the warmth with which he began to preach against
dissent only irritated himself and others, without bringing back
disciples to the fold."

So writes Crabbe's son with his wonted frankness and good judgment.
Moreover, besides the Wesleyan secession, the mischievous extravagances
of William Huntington (S.S.) had found their way into the parish. To
make matters worse, a former gardener of Crabbe's had set up as a
preacher of the doctrines of this fanatic, who was still attracting
crowds in London. Then, too, as another fruit of the rector's long
absence, strange stories of his political opinions had become current.
Owing, doubtless, to his renewed acquaintance with Dudley North at
Glemham, and occasional association with the Whig leaders at his house,
he had exposed himself to the terrible charge that he was a Jacobin!

Altogether Crabbe's clerical position in Leicestershire, during the next
nine years, could not have been very comfortable. But he was evidently
still, as always, the devout and kindly pastor of his flock, and happily
for himself, he was now to receive new and unexpected tributes to his
popularity in other fields. His younger son, John, now eighteen years of
age, was shortly to go up to Cambridge, and this fresh expense had to be
provided for. To this end, a volume of poems, partly old and partly new,
had been for some time in preparation, and in September 1807, it
appeared from the publishing house of John Hatchard in Piccadilly. In it
were included _The Library_, _The Newspaper_, and _The Village_. The
principal new poem was _The Parish Register_, to which were added _Sir
Eustace Grey_ and _The Hall of Justice_. The volume was prefaced by a
Dedication to Henry Richard Fox, third Lord Holland, nephew and sometime
ward of Charles James Fox, and the reason for such dedication is told at
greater length in the long autobiographical introduction that follows.

Twenty-two years had elapsed since Crabbe's last appearance as an
author, and he seems to have thought it due to his readers to give some
reason for his long abstention from the poet's 'idle trade.' He pleads a
higher 'calling,' that of his professional duties, as sufficient
excuse. Moreover, he offers the same excuse for his 'progress in the art
of versification' being less marked than his readers might otherwise
expect. He then proceeds to tell the story of the kindness he had
received from Burke (who had died in 1797); the introduction by him to
Sir Joshua Reynolds, and through him again to Samuel Johnson. He gives
in full Johnson's note approving _The Village_, and after a further
laborious apology for the shortcomings of his present literary venture,
goes on to tell the one really relevant incident of its appearance.
Crabbe had determined, he says, now that his old valued advisers had
passed away, not to publish anything more--

"unless I could first obtain the sanction of such an opinion
as I might with some confidence rely upon. I looked for a
friend who, having the discerning taste of Mr. Burke and the
critical sagacity of Doctor Johnson, would bestow upon my
MS. the attention requisite to form his opinion, and would
then favour me with the result of his observations; and it
was my singular good fortune to obtain such assistance--the
opinion of a critic so qualified, and a friend so disposed to
favour me. I had been honoured by an introduction to the
Right Hon. Charles James Fox, some years before, at the
seat of Mr. Burke; and being again with him, I received a
promise that he would peruse any work I might send to him
previous to its publication, and would give me his opinion.
At that time I did not think myself sufficiently prepared;
and when afterwards I had collected some poems for his inspection,
I found my right honourable friend engaged by the
affairs of a great empire, and struggling with the inveteracy
of a fatal disease. At such time, upon such mind, ever disposed
to oblige as that mind was, I could not obtrude the
petty business of criticising verses; but he remembered the
promise he had kindly given, and repeated an offer which
though I had not presumed to expect, I was happy to receive.
A copy of the poems, now first published, was sent to him,
and (as I have the information from Lord Holland, and his
Lordship's permission to inform my readers) the poem which
I have named _The Parish Register_ was heard by Mr. Fox,
and it excited interest enough by some of its parts to gain for
me the benefit of his judgment upon the whole. Whatever he
approved, the reader will readily believe, I have carefully
retained: the parts he disliked are totally expunged, and
others are substituted, which I hope resemble those more
conformable to the taste of so admirable a judge. Nor can I
deny myself the melancholy satisfaction of adding that this
poem (and more especially the history of Phoebe Dawson,
with some parts of the second book) were the last compositions
of their kind that engaged and amused the capacious, the
candid, the benevolent mind of this great man."

It was, as we have seen, at Dudley North's residence in Suffolk that
Crabbe had renewed his acquaintance with Fox, and received from him
fresh offers of criticism and advice. And now the great statesman had
passed beyond reach of Crabbe's gratitude. He had died in the autumn of
1806, at the Duke of Devonshire's, at Chiswick. His last months wore of
great suffering, and the tedium of his latter days was relieved by being
read aloud to--the Latin poets taking their turn with Crabbe's pathetic
stories of humble life. In the same preface, Crabbe further expresses
similar obligations to his friend, Richard Turner of Yarmouth. The
result of this double criticism is the more discernible when we compare
_The Parish Register_ with, its successor, _The Borough_, in the
composition of which Crabbe admits, in the preface to that poem, that he
had trusted more entirely to his own judgment.

In _The Parish Register_, Crabbe returns to the theme which he had
treated twenty years before in _The Village,_ but on a larger and more
elaborate scale. The scheme is simple and not ineffective. A village
clergyman is the narrator, and with his registers of baptisms,
marriages, and burials open before him, looks through the various
entries for the year just completed. As name after name recalls
interesting particulars of character and incident in their history, he
relates them as if to an imaginary friend at his side. The precedent of
_The Deserted Village_ is still obviously near to the writer's mind, and
he is alternately attracted and repelled by Goldsmith's ideals. For
instance, the poem opens with an introduction of some length in which
the general aspects of village life are described. Crabbe begins by
repudiating any idea of such life as had been described by his

"Is there a place, save one the poet sees,
A land of love, of liberty, and ease;
Where labour wearies not, nor cares suppress
Th' eternal flow of rustic happiness:
Where no proud mansion frowns in awful state,
Or keeps the sunshine from the cottage-gate;
Where young and old, intent on pleasure, throng,
And half man's life is holiday and song?
Vain search for scenes like these! no view appears,
By sighs unruffled, or unstain'd by tears;
Since vice the world subdued and waters drown'd,
Auburn and Eden can no more be found."

And yet the poet at once proceeds to describe his village in much the
same tone, and with much of the same detail as Goldsmith had done:--

"Behold the Cot! where thrives th' industrious swain,
Source of his pride, his pleasure, and his gain,
Screen'd from the winter's-wind, the sun's last ray
Smiles on the window and prolongs the day;
Projecting thatch the woodbine's branches stop,
And turn their blossoms to the casement's top;
All need requires is in that cot contain'd,
And much that taste untaught and unrestrain'd
Surveys delighted: there she loves to trace,
In one gay picture, all the royal race;
Around the walls are heroes, lovers, kings;
The print that shows them and the verse that sings."

Then follow, as in _The Deserted Village_, the coloured prints, and
ballads, and even _The Twelve Good Rules_, that decorate the walls: the
humble library that fills the deal shelf "beside the cuckoo clock"; the
few devotional works, including the illustrated Bible, bought in parts
with the weekly sixpence; the choice notes by learned editors that raise
more doubts than they close. "Rather," exclaims Crabbe:

"Oh! rather give me commentators plain
Who with no deep researches vex the brain;
Who from the dark and doubtful love to run,
And hold their glimmering tapers to the sun."

The last line of which he conveyed, no doubt unconsciously, from Young.
Nothing can be more winning than the picture of the village home thus
presented. And outside it, the plot of carefully-tended ground, with not
only fruits and herbs but space reserved for a few choice flowers, the
rich carnation and the "pounced auricula":--

"Here, on a Sunday eve, when service ends,
Meet and rejoice a family of friends:
All speak aloud, are happy and are free,
And glad they seem, and gaily they agree.
What, though fastidious ears may shun the speech,
Where all are talkers, and where none can teach;
Where still the welcome and the words are old,
And the same stories are for ever told;
Yet theirs is joy that, bursting from the heart,
Prompts the glad tongue these nothings to impart;
That forms these tones of gladness we despise,
That lifts their steps, that sparkles in their eyes;
That talks or laughs or runs or shouts or plays,
And speaks in all there looks and all their ways."

This charming passage is thoroughly in Goldsmith's vein, and even shows
markedly the influence of his manner, and yet it is no mere echo of
another poet. The scenes described are those which had become dear and
familiar to Crabbe during years of residence in Leicestershire and
inland Suffolk. And yet at this very juncture, Crabbe's poetic
conscience smites him. It is not for him, he remembers, to deal only
with the sweeter aspects, though he knows them to exist, of village
life. He must return to its sterner side:--

"Fair scenes of peace! ye might detain us long,
But vice and misery now demand the song;
And turn our view from dwellings simply neat,
To this infected Row we term our Street."

For even the village of trim gardens and cherished Bibles has its
"slums," and on these slums Crabbe proceeds to enlarge with almost
ferocious realism:--

"Here, in cabal, a disputatious crew
Each evening meet; the sot, the cheat, the shrew;
Riots are nightly heard:--the curse, the cries
Of beaten wife, perverse in her replies,
While shrieking children hold each threat'ning hand,
And sometimes life, and sometimes food demand;
Boys, in their first-stol'n rags, to swear begin;
And girls, who heed not dress, are skill'd in gin."

It is obvious, I think, that Crabbe's representations of country life
here, as in _The Village_ and _The Borough_, are often eclectic, and
that for the sake of telling contrast, he was at times content to blend
scenes that he had witnessed under very opposite conditions.

The section entitled "Baptisms" deals accordingly with many sad
instances of "base-born" children, and the section on "Marriages" also
has its full share of kindred instances in which the union in Church has
only been brought about by pressure from the parish authorities. The
marriage of one such "compelled bridegroom" is related with a force and
minuteness of detail throughout which not a word is thrown away:--

"Next at our altar stood a luckless pair,
Brought by strong passions and a warrant there;
By long rent cloak, hung loosely, strove the bride
From every eye, what all perceived, to hide.
While the boy-bridegroom, shuffling in his pace,
Now hid awhile, and then exposed his face;
As shame alternately with anger strove
The brain, confused with muddy ale, to move,
In haste and stammering he perform'd his part,
And look'd the rage that rankled in his heart:
(So will each lover inly curse his fate,
Too soon made happy, and made wise too late:)
I saw his features take a savage gloom,
And deeply threaten for the days to come.
Low spake the lass, and lisp'd and minced the while,
Look'd on the lad, and faintly tried to smile;
With soften'd speech and humbled tone she strove
To stir the embers of departed love:
While he, a tyrant, frowning walk'd before,
Felt the poor purse, and sought the public door,
She sadly following in submission went
And saw the final shilling foully spent;
Then to her father's hut the pair withdrew,
And bade to love and comfort long adieu!
Ah! fly temptation, youth, refrain! refrain!
I preach for ever; but I preach in vain!"

There is no "mealy-mouthed philanthropy" here. No one can doubt the
earnestness and truth of the poet's mingled anger and sorrow. The misery
of irregular unions had never been "bitten in" with more convincing
force. The verse, moreover, in the passage is freer than usual from many
of Crabbe's eccentricities. It is marked here and there by his fondness
for verbal antithesis, almost amounting to the pun, which his parodists
have not overlooked. The second line indeed is hardly more allowable in
serious verse than Dickens's mention of the lady who went home "in a
flood of tears and a sedan-chair." But Crabbe's indulgence in this habit
is never a mere concession to the reader's flippant taste. His epigrams
often strike deeply home, as in this instance or in the line:--

"Too soon made happy, and made wise too late."

The story that follows of Phoebe Dawson, which helped to soothe Fox in
the last stage of his long disease, is no less powerful. The gradual
steps by which the village beauty is led to her ruin are told in a
hundred lines with a fidelity not surpassed in the case of the story of
Hetty Sorrel. The verse, alternately recalling Pope and Goldsmith, is
yet impelled by a moral intention, which gives it absolute
individuality. The picture presented is as poignantly pathetic as
Frederick Walker's _Lost Path_, or Langhorne's "Child of misery,
baptized in tears." That it will ever again be ranked with such may be
doubtful, for _technique_ is the first quality demanded of an artist in
our day, and Crabbe's _technique_ is too often defective in the extreme.

These more tragic incidents of village life are, however, relieved at
proper intervals by some of lighter complexion. There is the gentleman's
gardener who has his successive children christened by the Latin names
of his plants,--Lonicera, Hyacinthus and Senecio. Then we have the
gallant, gay Lothario, who not only fails to lead astray the lovely
Fanny Price, but is converted by her to worthier aims, and ends by
becoming the best friend and benefactor of her and her rustic suitor.
There is an impressive sketch of the elderly prude:--

"--wise, austere, and nice,
Who showed her virtue by her scorn of vice";

and another of the selfish and worldly life of the Lady at the Great
House who prefers to spend her fortune in London, and leaves her tenants
to the tender mercies of her steward. Her forsaken mansion is described
in lines curiously anticipating Hood's _Haunted House_:--

"--forsaken stood the Hall:
Worms ate the floors, the tap'stry fled the wall:
No fire the kitchen's cheerless grate display'd;
No cheerful light the long-closed sash convey'd;
The crawling worm that turns a summer fly,
Here spun his shroud, and laid him up to die
The winter-death:--upon the bed of state,
The bat shrill shrieking woo'd his flickering mate."

In the end her splendid funeral is solemnised:--

"Dark but not awful, dismal but yet mean,
With anxious bustle moves the cumbrous scene;
Presents no objects tender or profound
But spreads its cold unmeaning gloom around."

And the sarcastic village-father, after hearing "some scholar" read the
list of her titles and her virtues, "looked disdain and said":--

"Away, my friends! why take such pains to know
What some brave marble soon in Church shall show?
Where not alone her gracious name shall stand,
But how she lived--the blessing of the land;
How much we all deplored the noble dead,
What groans we uttered and what tears we shed;
Tears, true as those which in the sleepy eyes
Of weeping cherubs on the stone shall rise;
Tears, true as those which, ere she found her grave,
The noble Lady to our sorrows gave!"

These portraits of the ignoble rich are balanced by one of the "noble
peasant" Isaac Ashford, drawn, as Crabbe's son tells us, from a former
parish-clerk of his father's at North Glemham. Coming to be past work
through infirmities of age, the old man has to face the probability of
the parish poorhouse, and reconciling himself to his lot is happily
spared the sore trial:--

"Daily he placed the Workhouse in his view!
But came not there, for sudden was his fate,
He dropp'd, expiring, at his cottage-gate.
I feel his absence in the hours of prayer,
And view his seat, and sigh for Isaac there:
I see no more those white locks thinly spread
Round the bald polish of that honour'd head;
No more that awful glance on playful wight,
Compell'd to kneel and tremble at the sight,
To fold his fingers, all in dread the while,
Till Mister Ashford soften'd to a smile;
No more that meek and suppliant look in prayer,
Nor the pure faith (to give it force), are there:--
But he is blest, and I lament no more
A wise, good man, contented to be poor."

Where Crabbe is represented, not unfairly, as dwelling mainly on the
seamy side of peasant and village life, such passages as the above are
not to be overlooked.

This final section ("Burials") is brought to a close by an ingenious
incident which changes the current of the vicar's thoughts. He is in the
midst of the recollections of his departed flock when the tones of the
passing-bell fall upon his ear. On sending to inquire he finds that they
tell of a new death, that of his own aged parish-sexton, "old Dibble"
(the name, it may be presumed, an imperfect reminiscence of Justice
Shallow's friend). The speaker's thoughts are now directed to his old
parish servant, and to the old man's favourite stories of previous
vicars under whom he has served. Thus the poem ends with sketches of
Parson Addle, Parson Peele, Dr. Grandspear and others--among them the
"Author-Rector," intended (the younger Crabbe thought) as a portrait of
the poet himself. Finally Crabbe could not resist the temptation to
include a young parson, "a youth from Cambridge," who has imbibed some
extreme notions of the school of Simeon, and who is shown as fearful on
his death-bed lest he should have been guilty of too many good works. He
appeals to his old clerk on the subject:--

"'My alms-deeds all, and every deed I've done,
My moral-rags defile me every one;
It should not be:--what say'st thou! Tell me, Ralph.'
'Quoth I, your Reverence, I believe you're safe;
Your faith's your prop, nor have you pass'd such time
In life's good works as swell them to a crime.
If I of pardon for my sins were sure,
About my goodness I would rest secure.'"

The volume containing _The Parish Register, The Village_, and others,
appeared in the autumn of 1807; and Crabbe's general acceptance as a
poet of mark dates from that year. Four editions were issued by Mr.
Hatchard during the following year and a half--the fourth appearing in
March 1809. The reviews were unanimous in approval, headed by Jeffrey in
the _Edinburgh_, and within two days of the appearance of this article,
according to Crabbe's son, the whole of the first edition was sold off.

At this date, there was room for Crabbe as a poet, and there was still
more room for him as an innovator in the art of fiction. Macaulay, in
his essay on Addison, has pointed out how the Roger de Coverley papers
gave the public of his day the first taste of a new and exquisite
pleasure. At the time "when Fielding was birds-nesting, and Smollett was
unborn," he was laying the foundations of the English novel of real
life. After nearly a hundred years, Crabbe was conferring a similar
benefit. The novel had in the interim risen to its full height, and then
sunk. When Crabbe published his _Parish Register_, the novels of the day
were largely the vapid productions of the Minerva Press, without
atmosphere, colour, or truth. Miss Edgeworth alone had already struck
the note of a new development in her _Castle Rackrent_, not to mention
the delightful stories in _The Parents' Assistant, Simple Susan, Lazy
Lawrence_, or _The Basket-Woman_. Galt's masterpiece, _The Annals of the
Parish_, was not yet even lying unfinished in his desk. The
Mucklebackits and the Headriggs were still further distant. Miss
Mitford's sketches in _Our Village_--the nearest in form to Crabbe's
pictures of country life--were to come later still. Crabbe, though he
adhered, with a wise knowledge of his own powers, to the heroic couplet,
is really a chief founder of the rural novel--the _Silas Marner_ and the
_Adam Bede_ of fifty years later. Of course (for no man is original) he
had developed his methods out of that of his predecessors. Pope was his
earliest master in his art. And what Pope had done in his telling
couplets for the man and woman of fashion--the Chloes and Narcissas of
his day--Crabbe hoped that he might do for the poor and squalid
inhabitants of the Suffolk seaport. Then, too, Thomson's "lovely young
Lavinia," and Goldsmith's village-parson and poor widow gathering her
cresses from the brook, had been before him and contributed their share
of influence. But Crabbe's achievement was practically a new thing. The
success of _The Parish Register_ was largely that of a new adventure in
the world of fiction. Whatever defects the critic of pure poetry might
discover in its workmanship, the poem was read for its stories--for a
truth of realism that could not be doubted, and for a pity that could
not be unshared.

In 1809 Crabbe forwarded a copy of his poems (now reduced by the
publisher to the form of two small volumes, and in their fourth edition)
to Walter Scott, who acknowledged them and Crabbe's accompanying letter
in a friendly reply, to which reference has already been made. After
mentioning how for more than twenty years he had desired the pleasure of
a personal introduction to Crabbe, and how, as a lad of eighteen, he had
met with selections from _The Village_ and _The Library_ in _The Annual
Register_, he continues:--

"You may therefore guess my sincere delight when I saw
your poems at a late period assume the rank in the public
consideration which they so well deserve. It was a triumph
to my own immature taste to find I had anticipated the
applause of the learned and the critical, and I became very
desirous to offer my _gratulor_ among the more important
plaudits which you have had from every quarter. I should
certainly have availed myself of the freemasonry of authorship
(for our trade may claim to be a mystery as well as Abhorson's)
to address to you a copy of a new poetical attempt, which I
have now upon the anvil, and I esteem myself particularly obliged
to Mr. Hatchard, and to your goodness acting upon his
information, for giving me the opportunity of paving the way
for such a freedom. I am too proud of the compliments
you honour me with to affect to decline them; and with
respect to the comparative view I have of my own labours
and yours, I can only assure you that none of my little folks,
about the formation of whose tastes and principles I may be
supposed naturally solicitous, have ever read any of my own
poems--while yours have been our regular evening's amusement
My eldest girl begins to read well, and enters as well
into the humour as into the sentiment of your admirable
descriptions of human life. As for rivalry, I think it has
seldom existed among those who know by experience that
there are much better things in the world than literary
reputation, and that one of the best of those good things is
the regard and friendship of those deservedly and generally
esteemed for their worth or their talents. I believe many
dilettante authors do cocker themselves up into a great
jealousy of anything that interferes with what they are
pleased to call their fame: but I should as soon think of
nursing one of my own fingers into a whitlow for my private
amusement as encouraging such a feeling. I am truly sorry
to observe you mention bad health: those who contribute so
much to the improvement as well as the delight of society
should escape this evil. I hope, however, that one day your
state of health may permit you to view this country."

This interchange of letters was the beginning of a friendship that was
to endure and strengthen through the lives of both poets, for they died
in the self-same year. The "new poetical attempt" that was
"on the anvil" must have been _The Lady of the Lake_, completed and
published in the following year. But already Scott had uneasy misgivings
that the style would not bear unlimited repetition. Even before Byron
burst upon the world with the two first cantos of _Childe Harold_, and
drew on him the eyes of all readers of poetry, Scott had made the
unwelcome discovery that his own matter and manner was imitable, and
that others were borrowing it. Many could now "grow the flower" (or
something like it), for "all had got the seed." It was this persuasion
that set him thinking whether he might not change his topics and his
metre, and still retain his public. To this end he threw up a few tiny
_ballons d'essai_--experiments in the manner of some of his popular
contemporaries, and printed them in the columns of the _Edinburgh Annual
Register_. One of these was a grim story of village crime called _The
Poacher_, and written in avowed imitation of Crabbe. Scott was earnest
in assuring Lockhart that he had written in no spirit of travesty, but
only to test whether he would be likely to succeed in narrative verse of
the same pattern. He had adopted Crabbe's metre, and as far as he could
compass it, his spirit also. The result is noteworthy, and shows once
again how a really original imagination cannot pour itself into
another's mould. A few lines may suffice, in evidence. The couplet about
the vicar's sermons makes one sure that for the moment Scott was
good-humouredly copying one foible at least of his original:--

"Approach and through the unlatticed window peep.
Nay, shrink not back, the inmate is asleep;
Sunk 'mid yon sordid blankets, till the sun
Stoop to the west, the plunderer's toils are done.
Loaded and primed, and prompt for desperate hand,
Rifle and fowling-piece beside him stand,
While round the hut are in disorder laid
The tools and booty of his lawless trade;
For force or fraud, resistance or escape
The crow, the saw, the bludgeon, and the crape;
His pilfered powder in yon nook he hoards,
And the filched lead the church's roof affords--
(Hence shall the rector's congregation fret,
That while his sermon's dry, his walls are wet.)
The fish-spear barbed, the sweeping net are there,
Dog-hides, and pheasant plumes, and skins of hare,
Cordage for toils, and wiring for the snare.
Bartered for game from chase or warren won,
Yon cask holds moonlight,[5] seen when moon was none;
And late-snatched spoils lie stowed in hutch apart,
To wait the associate higgler's evening cart."

Happily for Scott's fame, and for the world's delight, he did not long
pursue the unprofitable task of copying other men. _Rokeby_ appeared,
was coldly received, and then Scott turned his thoughts to fiction in
prose, came upon his long-lost fragment of _Waverley_ and the need of
conciliating the poetic taste of the day was at an end for ever. But his
affection for Crabbe never waned. In his earlier novels there was no
contemporary poet he more often quoted as headings for his chapters--and
it was Crabbe's _Borough_ to which he listened with unfailing delight
twenty years later, in the last sad hours of his decay.


[Footnote 5: A cant term for smuggled spirits.]




The immediate success of _The Parish Register_ in 1807 encouraged Crabbe
to proceed at once with a far longer poem, which had been some years in
hand. _The Borough_ was begun at Rendham in Suffolk in 1801, continued
at Muston after the return thither in 1805, and finally completed during
a long visit to Aldeburgh in the autumn of 1809. That the Poem should
have been "in the making" during at least eight years is quite what
might be inferred from the finished work. It proved, on appearance, to
be of portentous length--at least ten thousand lines. Its versification
included every degree of finish of which Crabbe was capable, from his
very best to his very worst. Parts of it were evidently written when the
theme stirred and moved the writer: others, again, when he was merely
bent on reproducing scenes that lived in his singularly retentive
memory, with needless minuteness of detail, and in any kind of couplet
that might pass muster in respect of scansion and rhyme. In the preface
to the poem, on its appearance in 1810, Crabbe displays an uneasy
consciousness that his poem was open to objection in this respect. In
his previous ventures he had had Edmund Burke, Johnson, and Fox,
besides his friend Turner at Yarmouth, to restrain or to revise. On the
present occasion, the three first-named friends had passed away, and
Crabbe took his MS. with him to Yarmouth, on the occasion of his visit
to the Eastern Counties, for Mr. Richard Turner's opinion. The scholarly
rector of Great Yarmouth may well have shrunk from advising on a poem of
ten thousand lines in which, as the result was to show, the
pruning-knife and other trenchant remedies would have seemed to him
urgently needed. As it proved, Mr. Turner's opinion was on the whole
"highly favourable; but he intimated that there were portions of the new
work which might be liable to rough treatment from the critics."

_The Borough_ is an extension--a very elaborate extension--of the topics
already treated in _The Village_ and _The Parish Register_. The place
indicated is undisguisedly Aldeburgh; but as Crabbe had now chosen a far
larger canvas for his picture, he ventured to enlarge the scope of his
observation, and while retaining the scenery and general character of
the little seaport of his youth, to introduce any incidents of town life
and experiences of human character that he had met with subsequently.
_The Borough_ is Aldeburgh extended and magnified. Besides church
officials it exhibits every shade of nonconformist creed and practice,
notably those of which the writer was now having unpleasant experience
at Muston. It has, of course, like its prototype, a mayor and
corporation, and frequent parliamentary elections. It supports many
professors of the law; physicians of high repute, and medical quacks of
very low. Social life and pleasure is abundant, with clubs,
card-parties, and theatres. It boasts an almshouse, hospital, prisons,
and schools for all classes. The poem is divided into twenty-four cantos
or sections, written as "Letters" to an imaginary correspondent who had
bidden the writer "describe the borough," each dealing with its separate
topic--professions, trades, sects in religion, inns, strolling players,
almshouse inhabitants, and so forth. These descriptions are relieved at
intervals by elaborate sketches of character, as in _The Parish
Register_--the vicar, the curate, the parish clerk, or by some notably
pathetic incident in the life of a tenant of the almshouse, or a
prisoner in the gaol. Some of these reach the highest level of Crabbe's
previous studies in the same kind, and it was to these that the new work
was mainly to owe its success. Despite of frequent defects of
workmanship, they cling to the memory through their truth and intensity,
though to many a reader to-day such, episodes may be chiefly known to
exist through a parenthesis in one of Macaulay's _Essays_, where he
speaks of "that pathetic passage in Crabbe's _Borough_ which has made
many a rough and cynical reader cry like a child."

The passage referred to is the once-famous description of the condemned
Felon in the "Letter" on _Prisons_. Macaulay had, as we know, his
"heightened way of putting things," but the narrative which he cites, as
foil to one of Robert Montgomery's borrowings, deserves the praise. It
shows Crabbe's descriptive power at its best, and his rare power and
insight into the workings of the heart and mind. He has to trace the
sequence of thoughts and feelings in the condemned criminal during the
days between his sentence and its execution; the dreams of happier days
that haunt his pillow--days when he wandered with his sweetheart or his
sister through their village meadows:--

"Yes! all are with him now, and all the while
Life's early prospects and his Fanny's smile.
Then come his sister and his village friend,
And he will now the sweetest moments spend
Life has to yield,--No! never will he find
Again on earth such pleasure in his mind
He goes through shrubby walks these friends among,
Love in their looks and honour on the tongue.
Nay, there's a charm beyond what nature shows,
The bloom is softer and more sweetly glows;
Pierced by no crime and urged by no desire
For more than true and honest hearts require,
They feel the calm delight, and thus proceed
Through the green lane,--then linger in the mead,--
Stray o'er the heath in all its purple bloom,--
And pluck the blossom where the wild bees hum;
Then through the broomy bound with ease they pass,
And press the sandy sheep-walk's slender grass,
Whore dwarfish flowers among the grass are spread,
And the lamb browses by the linnet's bed;
Then 'cross the bounding brook they make their way
O'er its rough bridge--'and there behold the bay!--
The ocean smiling to the fervid sun--
The waves that faintly fall and slowly run--
The ships at distance and the boats at hand,
And now they walk upon the sea-side sand,
Counting the number, and what kind they be,
Ships softly sinking in the sleepy sea:
Now arm in arm, now parted, they behold
The glittering waters on the shingles rolled;
The timid girls, half dreading their design,
Dip the small foot in the retarded brine,
And search for crimson weeds, which spreading flow,
Or lie like pictures on the sand below:
With all those bright red pebbles, that the sun,
Through the small waves so softly shines upon;
And those live lucid jellies which the eye
Delights to trace as they swim glittering by:
Pearl-shells and rubied star-fish they admire,
And will arrange above the parlour fire,--
Tokens of bliss!--'Oh! horrible! a wave
Roars as it rises--save me, Edward! save!'
She cries:--Alas! the watchman on his way
Calls and lets in--truth, terror, and the day!"

Allowing for a certain melodramatic climax here led up to, we cannot
deny the impressiveness of this picture--the first-hand quality of its
observation, and an eye for beauty, which his critics are rarely
disposed to allow to Crabbe. A narrative of equal pathos, and once
equally celebrated, is that of the village-girl who receives back her
sailor-lover from his last voyage, only to watch over his dying hours.
It is in an earlier section (No. ii. _The Church_), beginning:

"Yes! there are real mourners--I have seen
A fair sad girl, mild, suffering, and serene,"

too long to quote in full, and, as with Crabbe's method generally, not
admitting of being fairly represented by extracts. Then there are
sketches of character in quite a different vein, such as the vicar,
evidently drawn from life. He is the good easy man, popular with the
ladies for a kind of _fade_ complimentary style in which he excels; the
man of "mild benevolence," strongly opposed to every thing new:

"Habit with him was all the test of truth:
'It must be right: I've done it from my youth,'
Questions he answered in as brief a way:
'It must be wrong--it was of yesterday.'"

Feeble good-nature, and selfish unwillingness to disturb any existing
habits or conventions, make up his character:

"In him his flock found nothing to condemn;
Him sectaries liked--he never troubled them:
No trifles failed his yielding mind to please,
And all his passions sunk in early ease;
Nor one so old has left this world of sin,
More like the being that he entered in."

An excellent companion sketch to that of the dilettante vicar is
provided in that of the poor curate--the scholar, gentleman, and devout
Christian, struggling against abject poverty to support his large
family. The picture drawn by Crabbe has a separate and interesting
origin. A year before the appearance of _The Borough_, one of the
managers of the Literary Fund, an institution then of some twenty years'
standing, and as yet without its charter, applied to Crabbe for a copy
of verses that might be appropriate for recitation at the annual dinner
of the Society, held at the Freemasons' Tavern. It was the custom of the
society to admit such literary diversions as part of the entertainment.
The notorious William Thomas Fitzgerald had been for many years the
regular contributor of the poem, and his efforts on the occasion are
remembered, if only through the opening couplet of Byron's _English
Bards and Scotch Reviewers_, where Fitzgerald is gibbeted as the
_Codrus_ of Juvenal's satire:

"Still must I hear? shall hoarse Fitzgerald bawl
His creaking couplets in a Tavern-Hall?"

His poem for this year, 1809, is printed at length in the _Gentleman's
Magazine_ for April--and also Crabbe's, recited at the same dinner.
Crabbe seems to have composed it for the occasion, but with the
intention of ultimately weaving it into the poem on which he was then
engaged. A paragraph prefixed to the lines also shows that Crabbe had a
further object in view. "The Founder of this Society having intimated a
hope that, on a plan which he has already communicated to his particular
Friends, its Funds may be sufficiently ample to afford assistance and
relief to learned officiating Clergymen in distress, though they may not
have actually commenced Authors--the Author, in allusion to this hope,
has introduced into a Poem which he is preparing for the Press the
following character of a learned Divine in distress."

Crabbe's lines bearing on the proposed scheme (which seems for a time at
least to have been adopted by the administrators of the Fund) were left
standing when _The Borough_ was published, with, an explanatory note.
They are effective for their purpose, the pathos of them is genuine, and
worthy of attention even in these latter days of the "Queen Victoria
Clergy Fund." The speaker is the curate himself:

"Long may these founts of Charity remain,
And never shrink, but to be filled again;
True! to the Author they are now confined,
To him who gave the treasure of his mind,
His time, his health,--and thankless found mankind:
But there is hope that from these founts may flow
A side-way stream, and equal good bestow;
Good that may reach us, whom the day's distress
Keeps from the fame and perils of the Press;
Whom Study beckons from the Ills of Life,
And they from Study; melancholy strife!
Who then can say, but bounty now so free,
And so diffused, may find its way to me?
Yes! I may see my decent table yet
Cheered with the meal that adds not to my debt;
May talk of those to whom so much we owe,
And guess their names whom yet we may not know;
Blest, we shall say, are those who thus can give,
And next, who thus upon the bounty live;
Then shall I close with thanks my humble meal,
And feel so well--Oh! God! how shall I feel!"

Crabbe is known to most readers to-day by the delightful parody of his
style in the _Rejected Addresses,_ which appeared in the autumn of 1812,
and it was certainly on _The Borough_ that James Smith based his
imitation. We all remember the incident of Pat Jennings's adventure in
the gallery of the theatre. The manner of the narrative is borrowed from
Crabbe's lighter and more colloquial style. Every little foible of the
poet, when in this vein, is copied with great skill. The superfluity of
information, as in the case of--

"John Richard William Alexander Dwyer,"

whose only place in the narrative is that he preceded Pat Jennings's
father in the situation as

"Footman to Justinian Stubbs, Esquire";

or again in the detail that,

"Emanuel Jennings brought his youngest boy
Up as a corn-cutter--a safe employ"

(a perfect Crabbian couplet), is imitated throughout, Crabbe's habit of
frequent verbal antithesis, and even of something like punning, is
exactly caught in such a couplet as:

"Big-worded bullies who by quarrels live--
Who give the lie, and tell the lie they give."

Much of the parody, no doubt, exhibits the fanciful humour of the
brothers Smith, rather than of Crabbe, as is the case with many
parodies. Of course there are couplets here and there in Crabbe's
narratives which justify the burlesque. We have:

"What is the truth? Old Jacob married thrice;
He dealt in coals, and avarice was his vice,"

or the lines which the parodists themselves quote in their

"Something had happened wrong about a Bill
Which was not drawn with true mercantile skill,
So to amend it I was told to go,
And seek the firm of Clutterbuck and Co."

But lines such as these in fact occur only at long intervals. Crabbe's
couplets are more often pedestrian rather than grotesque.

The poet himself, as the witty brothers relate with some pride, was by
no means displeased or offended by the liberty taken. When they met in
later years at William Spencer's, Crabbe hurried to meet James Smith
with outstretched hand, "Ah! my old enemy, how do you do?" Again,
writing to a friend who had expressed some indignation at the parody,
Crabbe complained only of the preface. "There is a little
ill-nature--and I take the liberty of adding, undeserved ill-nature--in
their prefatory address; but in their versification they have done me
admirably." Here Crabbe shows a slight lack of self-knowledge. For when
to the Letter on _Trades_ the following extenuating postscript is found
necessary, there would seem to be hardly any room for the parodist:

"If I have in this Letter praised the good-humour of a man
confessedly too inattentive to business, and if in the one on
_Amusements_, I have written somewhat sarcastically of 'the
brick-floored parlour which the butcher lets,' be credit given
to me that in the one case I had no intention to apologise for
idleness, nor any design in the other to treat with contempt
the resources of the poor. The good-humour is considered as
the consolation of disappointment, and the room is so mentioned
because the lodger is vain. Most of my readers will
perceive this; but I shall be sorry if by any I am supposed to
make pleas for the vices of men, or treat their wants and
infirmities with derision or with disdain."

After this, Crabbe himself might have admitted that the descent is not
very far to the parodist's delightful apology for the change from "one
hautboy" to "one fiddle" in the description of the band. The subsequent
explanation, how the poet had purposely intertwined the various
handkerchiefs which rescued Pat Jennings's hat from the pit, lest the
real owner should be detected, and the reason for it, is a not less
exquisite piece of fooling:--"For, in the statistical view of life and
manners which I occasionally present, my clerical profession has taught
me how extremely improper it would be by any allusion, however slight,
to give any uneasiness, however trivial, to any individual, however
foolish or wicked." It might perhaps be inferred from such effusions as
are here parodied that Crabbe was lacking in a sense of humour. This
would certainly be too sweeping an inference, for in many of his
sketches of human character he gives unmistakable proof to the contrary.
But the talent in question--often so recklessly awarded or denied to us
by our fellow-creatures--is very variable in the spheres of its
operation. The sense of humour is in its essence, as we have often been
told, largely a sense of proportion, and in this sense Crabbe was
certainly deficient. The want of it accounts for much more in his
writings than for his prose notes and prefaces. It explains much of the
diffuseness and formlessness of his poetry, and his inability to grasp
the great truth how much the half may be greater than the whole.

In spite, however, of these defects, and of the inequalities of the
workmanship, _The Borough_ was from the first a success. The poem
appeared in February 1810, and went through six editions in the next six
years. It does not indeed present an alluring picture of life in the
provinces. It even reminds us of a saying of Tennyson's, that if God
made the country, and man made the city, then it was the devil who made
the country-town. To travel through the borough from end to end is to
pass through much ignoble scenery, human and other, and under a cloudy
heaven, with only rare gleams of sunshine, and patches of blue sky.
These, when they occur, are proportionally welcome. They include some
exquisite descriptions of nature, though with Crabbe it will be noticed
that it is always the nature close about his feet, the hedge-row, the
meadow, the cottage-garden: as his son has noted, his outlook never
extends to the landscape beyond.

In the respects just mentioned, the qualities exhibited in the new poem
have been noticed before in _The Village_ and _The Parish Register_. In
_The Borough_, however, appear some maturer specimens of this power,
showing how Crabbe's art was perfecting by practice. Very noticeable are
the sections devoted to the almshouse of the borough and its
inhabitants. Its founder, an eccentric and philanthropic merchant of
the place, as well as the tenants of the almshouse whose descriptions
follow, are all avowedly, like most other characters in Crabbe, drawn
from life. The pious founder, being left without wife or children, lives
in apparent penury, but while driving all beggars from his door, devotes
his wealth to secret acts of helpfulness to all his poorer neighbours in

"A twofold taste he had; to give and spare,
Both were his duties, and had equal care;
It was his joy to sit alone and fast,
Then send a widow and her boys repast:
Tears in his eyes would, spite of him, appear,
But he from other eyes has kept the tear:
All in a wintry night from far he came
To soothe the sorrows of a suffering dame,
Whose husband robbed him, and to whom he meant
A lingering, but reforming punishment:
Home then he walked, and found his anger rise
When fire and rushlight met his troubled eyes;
But these extinguished, and his prayer addressed
To Heaven in hope, he calmly sank to rest."

The good man lived on, until, when his seventieth year was past, a
building was seen rising on the green north of the village--an almshouse
for old men and women of the borough, who had struggled in life and
failed. Having built and endowed this harbour of refuge, and placed its
government in the hands of six trustees, the modest donor and the pious
lady-relative who had shared in his good works passed quietly out of

This prelude is followed by an account of the trustees who succeeded to
the management after the founder's death, among them a Sir Denys Brand,
a lavish donor to the town, but as vulgar and ostentatious as the
founder had been humble and modest. This man defeats the intentions of
the founder by admitting to the almshouses persons of the shadiest
antecedents, on the ground that they at least had been conspicuous in
their day:

"Not men in trade by various loss brought down,
But those whose glory once amazed the town;
Who their last guinea in their pleasure spent,
Yet never fell so low as to repent:
To these his pity he could largely deal,
Wealth they had known, and therefore want could feel."

From this unfit class of pensioner Crabbe selects three for his minute
analysis of character. They are, as usual, of a very sordid type. The
first, a man named "Blaney," had his prototype in a half-pay major known
to Crabbe in his Aldeburgh days, and even the tolerant Jeffrey held that
the character was rather too shameless for poetical treatment. The next
inmate in order, a woman also drawn from the living model, and disguised
under the title of _Clelia_, is a study of character and career, drawn
with consummate skill. Certain abortive attempts of Crabbe to write
prose fiction have been already mentioned. But this narrative of the
gradual degradation of a coquette of the lower middle class shows that
Crabbe possessed at least some of the best qualities of a great
novelist. Clelia is, in fact, a kind of country-town Becky Sharp, whose
wiles and schemes are not destined to end in a white-washed reputation
at a fashionable watering-place. On the contrary she falls from one
ignominy to another until, by a gross abuse of a public charity, she
ends her days in the almshouse!

One further instance may be cited of Crabbe's persistent effort to
awaken attention to the problem of poor-law relief. In his day the
question, both as to policy and humanity, between indoor and outdoor
relief, was still unsettled. In _The Borough_, as described, many of the
helpless poor were relieved at their own homes. But a new scheme, "The
maintenance of the poor in a common mansion erected by the Hundred,"
seems to have been in force in Suffolk, and up to that time confined to
that county. It differed from the workhouse of to-day apparently in this
respect, that there was not even an attempt to separate the young and
old, the sick and the healthy, the criminal and vicious from the
respectable and honest. Yet Crabbe's powerful picture of the misery thus
caused to the deserving class of inmate is not without its lesson even
after nearly a century during which thought and humanity have been
continually at work upon such problems. The loneliness and weariness of
workhouse existence passed by the aged poor, separated from kinsfolk and
friends, in "the day-room of a London workhouse," have been lately set
forth by Miss Edith Sellers, in the pages of the _Nineteenth Century_,
with a pathetic incisiveness not less striking than that of the
following passage from the Eighteenth Letter of Crabbe's _Borough_:--

"Who can, when here, the social neighbour meet?
Who learn the story current in the street?
Who to the long-known intimate impart
Facts they have learned, or feelings of the heart?
They talk indeed, but who can choose a friend,
Or seek companions at their journey's end?
Here are not those whom they when infants knew;
Who, with like fortune, up to manhood grew;
Who, with like troubles, at old age arrived;
Who, like themselves, the joy of life survived;
Whom time and custom so familiar made,
That looks the meaning in the mind conveyed:
But here to strangers, words nor looks impart
The various movements of the suffering heart;
Nor will that heart with those alliance own,
To whom its views and hopes are all unknown
What, if no grievous fears their lives annoy,
Is it not worse no prospects to enjoy?
'Tis cheerless living in such bounded view,
With nothing dreadful, but with nothing new;
Nothing to bring them joy, to make them weep;
The day itself is, like the night, asleep."

The essence of workhouse monotony has surely never been better indicated
than here.

_The Borough_ did much to spread Crabbe's reputation while he remained,
doing his duty to the best of his ability and knowledge, in the quiet
loneliness of the Vale of Belvoir, but his growing fame lay far outside
the boundaries of his parish. When, a few years later, he visited London
and was received with general welcome by the distinguished world of
literature and the arts, he was much surprised. "In my own village," he
told James Smith, "they think nothing of me." The three years following
the publication of _The Borough_ were specially lonely. He had, indeed,
his two sons, George and John, with him. They had both passed through
Cambridge--one at Trinity and the other at Caius, and were now in holy
orders. Each held a curacy in the near neighbourhood, enabling them to
live under the parental roof. But Mrs. Crabbe's condition was now
increasingly sad, her mind being almost gone. There was no daughter, and
we hear of no other female relative at hand to assist Crabbe in the
constant watching of the patient. This circumstance alone limited his
opportunities of accepting the hospitalities of the neighbourhood,
though with the Welbys and other county families, as well as with the
surrounding clergy, he was a welcome guest.

_The Borough_ appeared in February 1810, and the reviewers were prompt
in their attention. The _Edinburgh_ reviewed the poem in April of the
same year, and the _Quarterly_ followed in October. Jeffrey had already
noticed _The Parish Register_ in 1808. The critic's admiration of Crabbe
had been, and remained to the end, cordial and sincere. But now, in
reviewing the new volume, a note of warning appears. The critic finds
himself obliged to admit that the current objections to Crabbe's
treatment of country life are well founded. "His chief fault," he says,
"is his frequent lapse into disgusting representations." All powerful
and pathetic poetry, Jeffrey admits, abounds in "images of distress,"
but these images must never excite "disgust," for that is fatal to the
ends which poetry was meant to produce. A few months later the
_Quarterly_ followed in the same strain, but went on to preach a more
questionable doctrine. The critic in fact lays down the extraordinary
canon that the function of Poetry is not to present any truth, if it
happens to be unpleasant, but to substitute an agreeable illusion in its
place. "We turn to poetry," he says, "not that we may see and feel what
we see and feel in our daily experience, but that we may be refreshed by
other emotions, and fairer prospects, that we may take shelter from the
realities of life in the paradise of Fancy."

The appearance of these two prominent reviews to a certain extent
influenced the direction of Crabbe's genius for the remainder of his
life. He evidently had given them earnest consideration, and in the
preface to the _Tales_, his next production, he attempted something like
an answer to each. Without mentioning any names he replies to Jeffrey in
the first part of his preface, and to the _Quarterly_ reviewer in the
second. Jeffrey had expressed a hope that Crabbe would in future
concentrate his powers upon some interesting and connected story. "At
present it is impossible not to regret that so much genius should be
wasted in making us perfectly acquainted with individuals of whom we are
to know nothing but their characters." Crabbe in reply makes what was
really the best apology for not accepting this advice. He intimates that
he had already made the experiment, but without success. His peculiar
gifts did not fit him for it. As he wrote the words, he doubtless had in
mind the many prose romances that he had written, and then consigned to
the flames. The short story, or rather the exhibition of a single
character developed through a few incidents, he felt to be the method
that fitted his talent best.

Crabbe then proceeds to deal with the question, evidently implied by the
_Quarterly_ reviewer, how far many passages in _The Borough_, when
concerned with low life, were really poetry at all. Crabbe pleads in
reply the example of other English poets, whose claim to the title had
never been disputed. He cites Chaucer, who had depicted very low life
indeed, and in the same rhymed metre. "If all that kind of satire
wherein character is skilfully delineated, must no longer be esteemed as
genuine poetry," then what becomes of the author of _The Canterbury
Tales_? Crabbe could not supply, or be expected to supply, the answer to
this question. He could not discern that the treatment is everything,
and that Chaucer was endowed with many qualities denied to himself--the
spirit of joyousness and the love of sunshine, and together with these,
gifts of humour and pathos to which Crabbe could make no pretension.
From Chaucer, Crabbe passes to the great but very different master, on
whom he had first built his style. Was Pope, then, not a poet? seeing
that he too has "no small portion of this actuality of relation, this
nudity of description, and poetry without an atmosphere"? Here again, of
course, Crabbe overlooks one essential difference between himself and
his model. Both were keen-sighted students of character, and both
described sordid and worldly ambitions. But Pope was strongest exactly
where Crabbe was weak. He had achieved absolute mastery of form, and
could condense into a couplet some truth which Crabbe expanded, often
excellently, in a hundred lines of very unequal workmanship. The
_Quarterly_ reviewer quotes, as admirable of its kind, the description
in _The Borough_ of the card-club, with the bickerings and ill-nature of
the old ladies and gentlemen who frequented it. It is in truth very
graphic, and no doubt absolutely faithful to life; but it is rather
metrical fiction than poetry. There is more of the essence of poetry in
a single couplet of Pope's:

"See how the world its veterans rewards--
A youth of frolics, an old age of cards."

For here the expression is faultless, and Pope has educed
an eternally pathetic truth, of universal application.

Even had the gentle remonstrances of the two reviewers never been
expressed, it would seem as if Crabbe had already arrived at somewhat
similar conclusions on his own account. At the time the reviews
appeared, the whole of the twenty-one _Tales_ to be published in August
1812 were already written. Crabbe had perceived that if he was to retain
the admiring public he had won, he must break fresh ground. Aldeburgh
was played out. It had provided abundant material and been an excellent
training-ground for Crabbe's powers. But he had discovered that there
were other fields worth cultivating besides that of the hard lots of the
very poor. He had associated in his later years with a class above
these--not indeed with the "upper ten," save when he dined at Belvoir
Castle, but with classes lying between these two extremes. He had come
to feel more and more the fascination of analysing human character and
motives among his equals. He had a singularly retentive memory, and the
habit of noting and brooding over incidents--specially of "life's little
ironies"--wherever he encountered them. He does not seem to have
possessed much originating power. When, a few years later, his friend
Mrs. Leadbeater inquired of him whether the characters in his various
poems were drawn from life, he replied:--"Yes, I will tell you readily
about my ventures, whom I endeavour to paint as nearly as I could, and
_dare_--for in some cases I dared not.... Thus far you are correct:
there is not one of whom I had not in my mind the original, but I was
obliged in most cases to take them from their real situations, and in
one or two instances even to change their sex, and in many, the
circumstances.... Indeed I do not know that I could paint merely from my
own fancy, and there is no cause why I should. Is there not diversity
enough in society?"




Crabbe's new volume--"Tales. By the Rev. George Crabbe, LL.B."--was
published by Mr. Hatchard of Piccadilly in the summer of 1812. It
received a warm welcome from the poet's admirers, and was reviewed, most
appreciatively, by Jeffrey in the _Edinburgh_ for November. The _Tales_
were twenty-one in number, and to each was prefixed a series, often four
or five, of quotations from Shakespeare, illustrating the incidents in
the Tales, or the character there depicted. Crabbe's knowledge of
Shakespeare must have been in those days, when concordances were not,
very remarkable, for he quotes by no means always from the best known
plays, and he was not a frequenter of the theatre. Crabbe had of late
studied human nature in books as well as in life.

As already remarked, the Tales are often built upon events in his own
family, or else occurring within their knowledge. The second in order of
publication, _The Parting Hour_, arose out of an incident in the life of
the poet's own brother, which is thus related in the notes to the
edition of 1834:

"Mr. Crabbe's fourth brother, William, taking to a sea-faring
life, was made prisoner by the Spaniards. He was
carried to Mexico, where he became a silversmith, married,
and prospered, until his increasing riches attracted a charge
of Protestantism; the consequence of which was much persecution.
He at last was obliged to abandon Mexico, his
property, and his family; and was discovered in the year
1803 by an Aldeburgh sailor on the coast of Honduras,
where again he seems to have found some success in business.
This sailor was the only person he had seen for many a year
who could tell him anything about Aldeburgh and his family,
and great was his perplexity when he was informed that his
eldest brother, George, was a clergyman. 'This cannot be
_our_ George,' said the wanderer, 'he was a _Doctor_! This was
the first, and it was also the last, tidings that ever reached
Mr. Crabbe of his brother William; and upon the Aldeburgh
sailor's story of his casual interview, it is obvious that
he built this tale."

The story as developed by Crabbe is pathetic and picturesque, reminding
us in its central interest of _Enoch Arden_. Allen Booth, the youngest
son of his parents dwelling in a small seaport, falls early in love with
a child schoolfellow, for whom his affection never falters. When grown
up the young man accepts an offer from a prosperous kinsman in the West
Indies to join him in his business. His beloved sees him depart with
many misgivings, though their mutual devotion was never to fade. She
does not see him again for forty years, when he returns, like Arden, to
his "native bay,"

"A worn-out man with wither'd limbs and lame,
His mind oppress'd with woes, and bent with age his frame."

He finds his old love, who had been faithful to her engagement for ten
years, and then (believing Allen to be dead) had married. She is now a
widow, with grown-up children scattered through the world, and is
alone. Allen then tells his sad story. The ship in which he sailed from
England had been taken by the Spaniards, and he had been carried a slave
to the West Indies, where he worked in a silver mine, improved his
position under a kind master, and finally married a Spanish girl,
hopeless of ever returning to England though still unforgetful of his
old love. He accumulates money, and, like Crabbe's brother, incurs the
envy of his Roman Catholic neighbours. He is denounced as a heretic, who
would doubtless bring up his children in the accursed English faith. On
his refusal to become a Catholic he is expelled the country, as the
condition of his life being spared:

"His wife, his children, weeping in his sight,
All urging him to flee, he fled, and cursed his flight."

After many adventures he falls in with a ship bound for England, but
again his return is delayed. He is impressed (it was war-time), and
fights for his country; loses a limb, is again left upon a foreign shore
where his education finds him occupation as a clerk; and finally, broken
with age and toil, finds his way back to England, where the faithful
friend of his youth takes care of him and nurses him to the end. The
situation at the close is very touching--for the joy of re-union is
clouded by the real love he feels for the Spanish wife and children from
whom he had been torn, and who are continually present to him in his

Nor is the treatment inadequate. It is at once discernible how much
Crabbe had already gained by the necessity for concentration upon the
development of a story instead of on the mere analysis of character. The
style, moreover, has clarified and gained in dignity: there are few, if
any, relapses into the homelier style on which the parodist could try
his hand. Had the author of _Enoch Arden_ treated the same theme in
blank-verse, the workmanship would have been finer, but he could hardly
have sounded a truer note of unexaggerated pathos.

The same may be said of the beautiful tale of _The Lover's Journey_.
Here again is the product of an experience belonging to Crabbe's
personal history. In his early Aldeburgh days, when he was engaged to
Sarah Elmy with but faint hope of ever being able to marry, it was one
of the rare alleviations of his distressed condition to walk over from
Aldeburgh to Beccles (some twenty miles distant), where his betrothed
was occasionally a visitor to her mother and sisters. "It was in his
walks," writes the son, "between Aldeburgh and Beccles that Mr. Crabbe
passed through the very scenery described in the first part of _The
Lover's Journey_; while near Beccles, in another direction, he found the
contrast of rich vegetation introduced in the latter part of that tale;
nor have I any doubt that the _disappointment_ of the story figures out
something that, on one of these visits, befell himself, and the feelings
with which he received it.

"Gone to a friend, she tells me;--I commend
Her purpose: means she to a female friend?"

"For truth compels me to say, that he was by no means free from the less
amiable sign of a strong attachment--jealousy." The story is of the
slightest--an incident rather than a story. The lover, joyous and
buoyant, traverses the dreary coast scenery of Suffolk, and because he
is happy, finds beauty and charm in the commonest and most familiar
sights and sounds of nature: every single hedge-row blossom, every group
of children at their play. The poem is indeed an illustration of
Coleridge's lines in his ode _Dejection_:

"O Lady, we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does Nature live,--
Ours is her wedding-garment, ours her shroud."

All along the road to his beloved's house, nature wears this
"wedding-garment." On his arrival, however, the sun fades suddenly from
the landscape. The lady is from home: gone to visit a friend a few miles
distant, not so far but that her lover can follow,--but the slight, real
or imaginary, probably the latter, comes as such a rebuff, that during
the "little more--how far away!" that he travels, the country, though
now richer and lovelier, seems to him (as once to Hamlet) a mere
"pestilent congregation of vapours." But in the end he finds his
mistress and learns that she had gone on duty, not for pleasure,--and
they return happy again, and so happy indeed, that he has neither eyes
nor thoughts for any of nature's fertilities or barrennesses--only for
the dear one at his side.

I have already had occasion to quote a few lines from this beautiful
poem, to show Crabbe's minute observation--in his time so rare--of
flowers and birds and all that makes the charm of rural scenery--but I
must quote some more:

"'Various as beauteous, Nature, is thy face,'
Exclaim'd Orlando: 'all that grows has grace:
All are appropriate--bog, and marsh, and fen,
Are only poor to undiscerning men;
Here may the nice and curious eye explore
How Nature's hand adorns the rushy moor,
Here the rare moss in secret shade is found,
Here the sweet myrtle of the shaking ground;
Beauties are these that from the view retire,
But well repay th' attention they require;
For these my Laura will her home forsake,
And all the pleasures they afford, partake.'"

And then follows a masterly description of a gipsy encampment on which
the lover suddenly comes in his travels. Crabbe's treatment of peasant
life has often been compared to that of divers painters--the Dutch
school, Hogarth, Wilkie, and others--and the following curiously
suggests Frederick Walker's fine drawing, _The Vagrants_:

"Again, the country was enclosed, a wide
And sandy road has banks on either side;
Where, lo! a hollow on the left appear'd,
And there a gipsy tribe their tent had rear'd;
'Twas open spread, to catch the morning sun,
And they had now their early meal begun,
When two brown boys just left their grassy seat,
The early Trav'ller with their prayers to greet:
While yet Orlando held his pence in hand,
He saw their sister on her duty stand;
Some twelve years old, demure, affected, sly,
Prepared the force of early powers to try;
Sudden a look of languor he descries,
And well-feigned apprehension in her eyes;
Train'd but yet savage in her speaking face,
He mark'd the features of her vagrant race;
When a light laugh and roguish leer express'd
The vice implanted in her youthful breast:
Forth from the tent her elder brother came,
Who seem'd offended, yet forbore to blame
The young designer, but could only trace
The looks of pity in the Trav'ller's face:
Within, the Father, who from fences nigh
Had brought the fuel for the fire's supply,
Watch'd now the feeble blaze, and stood dejected by.
On ragged rug, just borrowed from the bed,
And by the hand of coarse indulgence fed,
In dirty patchwork negligently dress'd,
Reclined the Wife, an infant at her breast;
In her wild face some touch of grace remain'd,
Of vigour palsied and of beauty stain'd;
Her bloodshot eyes on her unheeding mate
Were wrathful turn'd, and seem'd her wants to state,
Cursing his tardy aid--her Mother there
With gipsy-state engross'd the only chair;
Solemn and dull her look; with such she stands,
And reads the milk-maid's fortune in her hands,
Tracing the lines of life; assumed through years,
Each feature now the steady falsehood wears.
With hard and savage eye she views the food,
And grudging pinches their intruding brood;
Last in the group, the worn-out Grandsire sits
Neglected, lost, and living but by fits:
Useless, despised, his worthless labours done,
And half protected by the vicious Son,
Who half supports him; he with heavy glance
Views the young ruffians who around him dance;
And, by the sadness in his face, appears
To trace the progress of their future years:
Through what strange course of misery, vice, deceit,
Must wildly wander each unpractised cheat!
What shame and grief, what punishment and pain,
Sport of fierce passions, must each child sustain--
Ere they like him approach their latter end,
Without a hope, a comfort, or a friend!

But this Orlando felt not; 'Rogues,' said he,
'Doubtless they are, but merry rogues they be;
They wander round the land, and be it true
They break the laws--then let the laws pursue
The wanton idlers; for the life they live,
Acquit I cannot, but I can forgive.'
This said, a portion from his purse was thrown,
And every heart seem'd happy like his own."

_The Patron_, one of the most carefully elaborated of the Tales, is on
an old and familiar theme. The scorn that "patient merit of the unworthy
takes"; the misery of the courtier doomed "in suing long to bide";--the
ills that assail the scholar's life,

"Toil, envy, want, the Patron and the jail,"

are standing subjects for the moralist and the satirist. In Crabbe's
poem we have the story of a young man, the son of a "Borough-burgess,"
who, showing some real promise as a poet, and having been able to render
the local Squire some service by his verses at election time, is invited
in return to pay a visit of some weeks at the Squire's country-seat. The
Squire has vaguely undertaken to find some congenial post for the young
scholar, whose ideas and ambitions are much in advance of those
entertained for him in his home. The young man has a most agreeable time
with his new friends. He lives for the while with every refinement about
him, and the Squire's daughter, a young lady of the type of Lady Clara
Vere de Vere, evidently enjoys the opportunity of breaking a country
heart for pastime, "ere she goes to town." For after a while the family
leave for their mansion in London, the Squire at parting once more
impressing on his young guest that he will not forget him. After waiting
a reasonable time, the young poet repairs to London and seeks to obtain
an interview with his Patron. After many unsuccessful trials, and
rebuffs at the door from the servants, a letter is at last sent out to
him from their master, coolly advising him to abjure all dreams of a
literary life and offering him a humble post in the Custom House. The
young man, in bitterness of heart, tries the work for a short time; and
then, his health and spirits having utterly failed, he returns to his
parents' home to die, the father thanking God, as he moves away from his
son's grave, that no other of his children has tastes and talents above
his position:

"'There lies my Boy,' he cried, 'of care bereft,
And, Heaven be praised, I've not a genius left:
No one among ye, sons! is doomed to live
On high-raised hopes of what the Great may give.'"

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