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Crabbe, (George) by Alfred Ainger

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Crabbe, who is nothing if not incisive in the drawing of his moral, and
lays on his colours with no sparing hand, represents the heartless
Patron and his family as hearing the sad tidings with quite amazing

"Meantime the news through various channels spread,
The youth, once favour'd with such praise, was dead:
'Emma,' the Lady cried, 'my words attend,
Your siren-smiles have kill'd your humble friend;
The hope you raised can now delude no more,
Nor charms, that once inspired, can now restore'

Faint was the flush of anger and of shame,
That o'er the cheek of conscious beauty came:
'You censure not,' said she, 'the sun's bright rays,
When fools imprudent dare the dangerous gaze;
And should a stripling look till he were blind,
You would not justly call the light unkind;
But is he dead? and am I to suppose
The power of poison in such looks as those?'
She spoke, and pointing to the mirror, cast
A pleased gay glance, and curtsied as she pass'd.

My Lord, to whom the poet's fate was told,
Was much affected, for a man so cold:
'Dead!' said his lordship, 'run distracted, mad!
Upon my soul I'm sorry for the lad;
And now, no doubt, th' obliging world will say
That my harsh usage help'd him on his way:
What! I suppose, I should have nursed his muse,
And with champagne have brighten'd up his views,
Then had he made me famed my whole life long,
And stunn'd my ears with gratitude and song.
Still should the father hear that I regret
Our joint misfortune--Yes! I'll not forget.'"

The story, though it has no precise prototype in Crabbe's own history,
is clearly the fruit of his experience of life at Belvoir Castle,
combined with the sad recollection of his sufferings when only a few
years before he, a young man with the consciousness of talent, was
rolling butter-tubs on Slaughden Quay.

Much of the Tale is admirably and forcibly written, but again it may be
said that it is powerful fiction rather than poetry--and indeed into
such matters poetry can hardly enter. It displays the fine observation
of Miss Austen, clothed in effective couplets of the school of Johnson
and Churchill. Yet every now and then the true poet comes to the
surface. The essence of a dank and misty day in late autumn has never
been seized with more perfect truth than in these lines:

"Cold grew the foggy morn, the day was brief,
Loose on the cherry hung the crimson leaf;
The dew dwelt ever on the herb; the woods
Roar'd with strong blasts, with mighty showers the floods:
All green was vanish'd, save of pine and yew,
That still displayed their melancholy hue;
Save the green holly with its berries red,
And the green moss that o'er the gravel spread."

The scheme of these detached Tales had served to develop one special
side of Crabbe's talent. The analysis of human character, with its
strength and weakness (but specially the latter), finds fuller exercise
as the poet has to trace its effects upon the earthly fortunes of the
persons portrayed. The Tale entitled _The Gentleman Farmer_ is a
striking illustration in point. Jeffrey in his review of the _Tales_ in
the _Edinburgh_ supplies, as usual, a short abstract of the story, not
without due insight into its moral. But a profounder student of human
nature than Jeffrey has, in our own day, cited the Tale as worthy even
to illustrate a memorable teaching of St. Paul. The Bishop of Worcester,
better known as Canon Gore to the thousands who listened to the
discourse in Westminster Abbey, finds in this story a perfect
illustration of what moral freedom is, and what it is often erroneously
supposed to be:

"It is of great practical importance that we should get a
just idea of what our freedom consists in. There are men
who, under the impulse of a purely materialist science, declare
the sense of moral freedom to be an illusion. This is of course
a gross error. But what has largely played into the hands of
this error is the exaggerated idea of human freedom which is
ordinarily current, an idea which can only be held by ignoring
our true and necessary dependence and limitation. It is this
that we need to have brought home to us. There is an admirable
story among George Crabbe's _Tales_ called 'The Gentleman
Farmer.' The hero starts in life resolved that he will
not put up with any bondage. The orthodox clergyman,
the orthodox physician, and orthodox matrimony--all these
alike represent social bondage in different forms, and he will
have none of them So he starts on a career of 'unchartered

'To prove that _he alone was king of him,_'

and the last scene of all represents him the weak slave of
his mistress, a quack doctor, and a revivalist--'which things
are an allegory.'"

The quotation shows that Crabbe, neglected by the readers of poetry
to-day, is still cherished by the psychologist and divine. It is to the
"graver mind" rather than to the "lighter heart" that he oftenest
appeals. Newman, to mention no small names, found Crabbe's pathos and
fidelity to Human Nature even more attractive to him in advanced years
than in youth. There is indeed much in common between Crabbe's treatment
of life and its problems, and Newman's. Both may be called "stern"
portrayers of human nature, not only as intended in Byron's famous line,
but in Wordsworth's use of the epithet when he invoked Duty as the
"stern Daughter of the voice of God." A kindred lesson to that drawn by
Canon Gore from _The Gentleman Farmer_ is taught in the yet grimmer Tale
of _Edward Shore_. The story, as summarised by Jeffrey, is as follows:

"The hero is a young man of aspiring genius and enthusiastic
temper with an ardent love of virtue, but no settled
principles either of conduct or opinion. He first conceives an
attachment for an amiable girl, who is captivated with his
conversation; but, being too poor to marry, soon comes to
spend more of his time in the family of an elderly sceptic of
his acquaintance, who had recently married a young wife, and
placed unbounded confidence in her virtue, and the honour of
his friend. In a moment of temptation they abuse this
confidence. The husband renounces him with dignified composure;
and he falls at once from the romantic pride of his
virtue. He then seeks the company of the dissipated and
gay, and ruins his health and fortune without regaining his
tranquillity. When in gaol and miserable, he is relieved by
an unknown hand, and traces the benefaction to the friend
whose former kindness he had so ill repaid. This humiliation
falls upon his proud spirit and shattered nerves with an
overwhelming force, and his reason fails beneath it. He is
for some time a raving maniac, and then falls into a state of
gay and compassionable imbecility, which is described with
inimitable beauty in the close of this story."

Jeffrey's abstract is fairly accurate, save in one particular. Edward
Shore can hardly be said to feel an "ardent love of virtue." Rather is
he perfectly confident of his respectability, and bitterly contemptuous
of those who maintain the necessity of religion to control men's unruly
passions. His own lofty conceptions of the dignity of human nature are
sufficient for himself:

"'While reason guides me, I shall walk aright,
Nor need a steadier hand, or stronger light;
Nor this in dread of awful threats, design'd
For the weak spirit and the grov'ling mind;
But that, engaged by thoughts and views sublime,
I wage free war with grossness and with crime.'
Thus looked he proudly on the vulgar crew,
Whom statutes govern, and whom fears subdue."

As motto for this story Crabbe quotes the fine speech of Henry V. on
discovering the treachery of Lord Scrope, whose character had hitherto
seemed so immaculate. The comparison thus suggested is not as felicitous
as in many of Crabbe's citations. Had _In_ _Memoriam_ been then
written, a more exact parallel might have been found in Tennyson's
warning to the young enthusiast:

"See thou, that countest reason ripe
In holding by the law within,
Thou fail not in a world of sin,
And ev'n for want of such a type."

The story is for the most part admirably told. The unhappy man, reduced
to idiocy of a harmless kind, and the common playmate of the village
children, is encountered now and then by the once loved maid, who might
have made him happy:

"Kindly she chides his boyish flights, while he
Will for a moment fix'd and pensive be;
And as she trembling speaks, his lively eyes
Explore her looks; he listens to her sighs;
Charm'd by her voice, th' harmonious sounds invade
His clouded mind, and for a time persuade:
Like a pleased infant, who has newly caught
From the maternal glance a gleam of thought,
He stands enrapt, the half-known voice to hear,
And starts, half conscious, at the falling tear.

Rarely from town, nor then unwatch'd, he goes,
In darker mood, as if to hide his woes;
Returning soon, he with impatience seeks
His youthful friends, and shouts, and sings, and speaks;
Speaks a wild speech with action all as wild--
The children's leader, and himself a child;
He spins their top, or at their bidding bends
His back, while o'er it leap his laughing friends;
Simple and weak, he acts the boy once more,
And heedless children call him _Silly Shore_."

In striking contrast to the prevailing tone of the other Tales is the
charming story, conceived in a vein of purest comedy, called _The Frank
Courtship_. This Tale alone should be a decisive answer to those who
have doubted Crabbe's possession of the gift of humour, and on this
occasion he has refrained from letting one dark shadow fall across his
picture. It tells of one Jonas Kindred, a wealthy puritanic Dissenter of
narrowest creed and masterful temper. He has an only daughter, the pride
of her parents, and brought up by them in the strictest tenets of the
sect. Her father has a widowed and childless sister, with a comfortable
fortune, living in some distant town; and in pity of her solitary
condition he allows his naturally vivacious daughter to spend the
greater part of the year with her aunt. The aunt does not share the
prejudices of her brother's household. She likes her game of cards and
other social joys, and is quite a leader of fashion in her little town.
To this life and its enjoyments the beautiful and clever Sybil takes
very kindly, and unfolds many attractive graces. Once a year the aunt
and niece by arrangement spend a few weeks in Sybil's old home. The
aunt, with much serpentine wisdom, arranges that she and her niece shall
adapt themselves to this very different atmosphere--eschew cards, attend
regularly at chapel, and comply with the tone and habits of the family.
The niece, however, is really as good as she is pretty, and her
conscience smites her for deceiving her father, of whom she is genuinely
fond. She stands before him "pure, pensive, simple, sad,"--yet

"the damsel's heart,
When Jonas praised, reproved her for the part;
For Sybil, fond of pleasure, gay and light,
Had still a secret bias to the right;
Vain as she was--and flattery made her vain--
Her simulation gave her bosom pain."

As time wears on, however, this state of things must come to a close.
Jonas is anxious that his daughter shall marry suitably, and he finds
among his neighbours an admirable young man, a staunch member of the
"persuasion," and well furnished in this world's goods. He calls his
daughter home, that she may be at once introduced to her future husband,
for the father is as certain as Sir Anthony Absolute himself that
daughters should accept what is offered them and ask no questions. Sybil
is by no means unwilling to enter the holy state, if the right man can
be found. Indeed, she is wearying of the aimless life she lives with her
worldly aunt, and the gradual change in her thoughts and hopes is
indicated in a passage of much delicacy and insight:

"Jonas now ask'd his daughter--and the Aunt,
Though loth to lose her, was obliged to grant.--
But would not Sybil to the matron cling,
And fear to leave the shelter of her wing?
No! in the young there lives a love of change,
And to the easy they prefer the strange!
Then, too, the joys she once pursued with zeal,
From whist and visits sprung, she ceased to feel:
When with, the matrons Sybil first sat down,
To cut for partners and to stake her crown,
This to the youthful maid preferment seem'd,
Who thought what woman she was then esteem'd;
But in few years, when she perceived indeed
The real woman to the girl succeed,
No longer tricks and honours fill'd her mind,
But other feelings, not so well defined;
She then reluctant grew, and thought it hard
To sit and ponder o'er an ugly card;
Rather the nut-tree shade the nymph preferr'd,
Pleased with the pensive gloom and evening bird;
Thither, from company retired, she took
The silent walk, or read the fav'rite book."

The interview between Sybil and the young man is conceived with real
skill and humour. The young lady receives her lover, prepared to treat
him with gentle mockery and to keep him at a convenient distance. The
young lover is not daunted, and plainly warns her against the
consequences of such levity. But as the little duel proceeds, each
gradually detects the real good that underlies the surface qualities of
the other. In spite of his formalism, Sybil discerns that her lover is
full of good sense and feeling; and he makes the same discovery with
regard to the young lady's _badinage._ And then, after a conflict of
wits that seems to terminate without any actual result, the anxious
father approaches his child with a final appeal to her sense of filial

"With anger fraught, but willing to persuade,
The wrathful father met the smiling maid:
'Sybil,' said he, 'I long, and yet I dread
To know thy conduct--hath Josiah fled?
And, grieved and fretted by thy scornful air,
For his lost peace, betaken him to prayer?
Couldst then his pure and modest mind distress
By vile remarks upon his speech, address,
Attire, and voice?'--'All this I must confess.'
'Unhappy child! what labour will it cost
To win him back!'--'I do not think him lost.'
'Courts he then (trifler!) insult and disdain?'--
'No; but from these he courts me to refrain.'
'Then hear me, Sybil: should Josiah leave
Thy father's house?'--'My father's child would grieve.'
'That is of grace, and if he come again
To speak of love?'--'I might from grief refrain.'
'Then wilt thou, daughter, our design embrace?'--
Can I resist it, if it be of grace?'
'Dear child! in three plain words thy mind express:
Wilt thou have this good youth?'--'Dear father! yes.'"

All the characters in the story--the martinet father and his poor
crushed wife, as well as the pair of lovers--are indicated with an
appreciation of the value of dramatic contrast that might make the
little story effective on the stage. One of the Tales in this
collection, _The Confidant_, was actually turned into a little drama in
blank verse by Charles Lamb, under the changed title of _The Wife's
Trial: or the Intruding Widow_. The story of Crabbe's _Confidant_ is not
pleasant; and Lamb thought well to modify it, so as to diminish the
gravity of the secret of which the malicious friend was possessed. There
is nothing but what is sweet and attractive in the little comedy of _The
Frank Courtship_, and it might well be commended to the dexterous and
sympathetic hand of Mr. J.M. Barrie.




In the margin of FitzGerald's copy of the _Memoir_ an extract is quoted
from Crabbe's Diary: "1810, Nov. 7.--Finish Tales. Not happy hour." The
poet's comment may have meant something more than that so many of his
Tales dealt with sad instances of human frailty. At that moment, and for
three years longer, there hung over Crabbe's family life a cloud that
never lifted--the hopeless illness of his wife. Two years before,
Southey, in answer to a friend who had made some reference to Crabbe and
his poetry, writes:

"With Crabbe's poems I have been acquainted for about
twenty years, having read them when a schoolboy on their
first publication, and, by the help of _Elegant Extracts_,
remembered from that time what was best worth remembering.
You rightly compare him to Goldsmith. He is an imitator,
or rather an _antithesizer_ of Goldsmith, if such a word may be
coined for the occasion. His merit is precisely the same as
Goldsmith's--that of describing things clearly and strikingly;
but there is a wide difference between the colouring of the
two poets. Goldsmith threw a sunshine over all his pictures,
like that of one of our water-colour artists when he paints
for ladies--a light and a beauty not to be found in Nature,
though not more brilliant or beautiful than what Nature
really affords; Crabbe's have a gloom which is also not in
Nature--not the shade of a heavy day, of mist, or of clouds,
but the dark and overcharged shadows of one who paints by
lamplight--whose very lights have a gloominess. In part
this is explained by his history."

Southey's letter was written in September 1808, before either _The
Borough_ or the _Tales_ was published, which may account for the
inadequacy of his criticism on Crabbe's poetry. But the above passage
throws light upon a period in Crabbe's history to which his son
naturally does little more than refer in general and guarded terms. In a
subsequent passage of the letter already quoted, we are reminded that as
early as the year 1803 Mrs. Crabbe's mental derangement was familiarly
known to her friends.

But now, when his latest book was at last in print, and attracting
general attention, the end of Crabbe's long watching was not far off. In
the summer of 1813 Mrs. Crabbe had rallied so far as to express a wish
to see London again, and the father and mother and two sons spent nearly
three months in rooms in a hotel. Crabbe was able to visit Dudley North,
and other of his old friends, and to enter to some extent into the
gaieties of the town, but also, as always, taking advantage of the
return to London to visit and help the poor and distressed, not
unmindful of his own want and misery in the great city thirty years
before. The family returned to Muston in September, and towards the
close of the month Mrs. Crabbe was released from her long disease. On
the north wall of the chancel of Muston Church, close to the altar, is a
plain marble slab recording that not far away lie the remains of "Sarah,
wife of the Rev. George Crabbe, late Rector of this Parish."

Within _two_ days of the wife's death Crabbe fell ill of a serious
malady, worn out as he was with long anxiety and grief. He was for a few
days in danger of his life, and so well aware of his condition that he
desired that his wife's grave "might not be closed till it was seen
whether he should recover." He rallied, however, and returned to the
duties of his parish, and to a life of still deeper loneliness. But his
old friends at Belvoir Castle once more came to his deliverance. Within
a short time the Duke offered him the living of Trowbridge in Wiltshire,
a small manufacturing town, on the line (as we should describe it today)
between Bath and Salisbury. The value of the preferment was not as great
as that of the joint livings of Muston and Allington, so that poor
Crabbe was once more doomed to be a pluralist, and to accept, also at
the Duke's hands, the vicarage of Croxton Kerrial, near Belvoir Castle,
where, however, he never resided.

And now the time came for Crabbe's final move, and rector of Trowbridge
he was to remain for the rest of his life. He was glad to leave Muston,
which now had for him the saddest of associations. He had never been
happy there, for reasons we have seen. What Crabbe's son calls
"diversity of religious sentiment" had produced "a coolness in some of
his parishioners, which he felt the more painfully because, whatever
might be their difference of opinion, he was ever ready to help and
oblige them all by medical and other aid to the utmost extent of his
power." So that in leaving Muston he was not, as was evident, leaving
many to lament his departure. Indeed, malignity was so active in one
quarter that the bells of the parish church were rung to welcome
Crabbe's successor before Crabbe and his sons had quitted the house!

For other reasons, perhaps, Crabbe prepared to leave his two livings
with a sense of relief. His wife's death had cast a permanent shadow
over the landscape. The neighbouring gentry were kindly disposed, but
probably not wholly sympathetic. It is clear that there was a certain
rusticity about Crabbe; and his politics, such as they were, had been
formed in a different school from that of the county families. A busy
country town was likely to furnish interests and distractions of a
different kind. But before finally quitting the neighbourhood he visited
a sister at Aldeburgh, and, his son writes, 'one day was given to a
solitary ramble among the scenery of bygone years--Parham and the woods
of Glemham, then in the first blossom of May. He did not return until
night; and in his note-book I find the following brief record of this
mournful visit:

"Yes, I behold again the place,
The seat of joy, the source of pain;
It brings in view the form and face
That I must never see again.

The night-bird's song that sweetly floats
On this soft gloom--this balmy air--
Brings to the mind her sweeter notes
That I again must never hear.

Lo! yonder shines that window's light,
My guide, my token, heretofore;
And now again it shines as bright,
When those dear eyes can shine no more.

Then hurry from this place away!
It gives not now the bliss it gave;
For Death has made its charm his prey,
And joy is buried in her grave."

In family relationships, and indeed all others, Crabbe's tenderness was
never wanting, and the verse that follows was found long afterwards
written on a paper in which his wife's wedding-ring, nearly worn through
before she died, was wrapped:

"The ring so worn, as you behold,
So thin, so pale, is yet of gold:
The passion such it was to prove;
Worn with life's cares, love yet was love."

Crabbe was inducted to the living of Trowbridge on the 3rd of June 1814,
and preached his first sermon two days later. His two sons followed him,
as soon as their existing engagements allowed them to leave
Leicestershire. The younger, John, who married in 1816, became his
father's curate, and the elder, who married a year later, became curate
at Pucklechurch, not many miles distant. As Crabbe's old cheerfulness
gradually returned he found much congenial society in the better
educated classes about him. His reputation as a poet was daily
spreading. The _Tales_ passed from edition to edition, and brought him
many admirers and sympathisers. The "busy, populous clothing town," as
he described Trowbridge to a friend, provided him with intelligent
neighbours of a class different from any he had yet been thrown with.
And yet once more, as his son has to admit, he failed to secure the
allegiance of the church-going parishioners. His immediate predecessor,
a curate in charge, had been one of those in whom a more passionate
missionary zeal had been stirred by the Methodist movement--"endeared to
the more serious inhabitants by warm zeal and a powerful talent for
preaching extempore." The parishioners had made urgent appeal to the
noble patron to appoint this man to the benefice, and the Duke's
disregard of their petition had produced much bitterness in the parish.
Then, again, in Crabbe there was a "lay" element, which had probably not
been found in his predecessor, and he might occasionally be seen "at a
concert, a ball, or even a play." And finally, not long after his
arrival, he took the unpopular side in an election for the
representation of the county. The candidate he supported was strongly
opposed by the "manufacturing interest," and Crabbe became the object of
intense dislike at the time of the election, so much so that a violent
mob attempted to prevent his leaving his house to go to the poll.
However, Crabbe showed the utmost courage during the excitement, and his
other fine qualities of sterling worth and kindness of heart ultimately
made their way; and in the sixteen years that followed, Crabbe took
still firmer hold of the affection of the worthier part of his

Crabbe's son thought good to devote several pages of his _Memoir_ to the
question why his father, having now no unmarried son to be his
companion, should not have taken such a sensible step as to marry again.
For the old man, if he deserved to be so called at the age of sixty-two,
was still very susceptible to the charms of female society, and indeed
not wholly free from the habit of philandering--a habit which
occasionally "inspired feelings of no ordinary warmth" in the fair
objects of "his vain devotion." One such incident all but ended in a
permanent engagement. A MS. quotation from the poet's Diary, copied in
the margin of FitzGerald's volume, may possibly refer to this occasion.
Under date of September 22 occurs this entry: "Sidmouth. Miss Ridout.
Declaration. Acceptance." But under October 5 is written the ominous
word, "Mr. Ridout." And later: "Dec. 12. Charlotte's picture returned."
A tragedy (or was it a comedy?) seems written in these few words. Edward
FitzGerald adds to this his own note: "Miss Ridout I remember--an
elegant spinster; friend of my mother's. About 1825 she had been at
Sidmouth, and known Crabbe." The son quotes some very ardent verses
belonging to this period, but not assignable to any particular charmer,
such as one set beginning:

"And wilt thou never smile again;
Thy cruel purpose never shaken?
Hast thou no feeling for my pain,
Refused, disdain'd, despised, forsaken?"

The son indicates these amiable foibles in a filial tone and in
apologetic terms, but the "liberal shepherds" sometimes spoke more
frankly. An old squire remarked to a friend in reference to this
subject, "D--mme, sir! the very first time Crabbe dined at my house he
made love to my sister!" And a lady is known to have complained that on
a similar occasion Crabbe had exhibited so much warmth of manner that
she "felt quite frightened." His son entirely supports the same view as
to his father's almost demonstratively affectionate manner towards
ladies who interested him, and who, perhaps owing to his rising repute
as an author, showed a corresponding interest in the elderly poet.
Crabbe himself admits "the soft impeachment." In a letter to his newly
found correspondent, Mrs. Leadbeater (granddaughter of
Burke's old schoolmaster, Richard Shackleton), he confesses that women
were more to him than men:

"I'm alone now; and since my removing into a busy town
among the multitude, the loneliness is but more apparent and
more melancholy. But this is only at certain times; and then
I have, though at considerable distances, six female friends,
unknown to each other, but all dear, very dear, to me. With
them I do not much associate; not as deserting, and much less
disliking, the male part of society, but as being unfit for it;
not hardy nor grave, not knowing enough, nor sufficiently
acquainted with the everyday concerns of men. But my
beloved creatures have minds with which I can better assimilate.
Think of you, I must; and of me, I must entreat that
you would not be unmindful."

Nothing, however, was destined to come of these various flirtations or
_tendresses_. The new duties at Trowbridge, with their multiplying calls
upon his attention and sympathies, must soon have filled his time and
attention when at work in his market town, with its flourishing woollen
manufactures. And Crabbe was now to have opened to him new sources of
interest in the neighbourhood. His growing reputation soon made him a
welcome guest in many houses to which his mere position as vicar of
Trowbridge might not have admitted him. Trowbridge was only a score or
so of miles from Bath, and there were many noblemen's and gentlemen's
seats in the country round. In this same county of Wilts, and not very
far away, at his vicarage of Bremhill, was William Lisle Bowles, the
graceful poet whose sonnets five-and-twenty years before had first
roused to poetic utterance the young Coleridge and Charles Lamb when at
Christ's Hospital. Through Bowles, Crabbe was introduced to the noble
family at Bowood, where the third Marquis of Lansdowne delighted to
welcome those distinguished in literature and the arts. Within these
splendid walls Crabbe first made the acquaintance of Rogers, which soon
ripened into an intimacy not without effect, I think, upon the remaining
efforts of Crabbe as a poet. One immediate result was that Crabbe
yielded to Rogers's strong advice to him to visit London, and take his
place among the literary society of the day. This visit was paid in the
summer of 1817, when Crabbe stayed in London from the middle of June to
the end of July.

Crabbe's son rightly included in his _Memoir_ several extracts from his
father's Diary kept during this visit. They are little more than
briefest entries of engagements, but serve to show the new and brilliant
life to which the poet was suddenly introduced. He constantly dined and
breakfasted with Rogers, where he met and was welcomed by Rogers's
friends. His old acquaintance with Fox gave him the _entree_ of Holland
House. Thomas Campbell was specially polite to him, and really attracted
by him. Crabbe visited the theatres, and was present at the farewell
banquet given to John Kemble. Through Rogers and Campbell he was
introduced to John Murray of Albemarle Street, who later became his
publisher. He sat for his portrait to Pickersgill and Phillips, and saw
the painting by the latter hanging on the Academy walls when dining at
their annual banquet. Again, through an introduction at Bath to Samuel
Hoare of Hampstead, Crabbe formed a friendship with him and his family
of the most affectionate nature. During the first and all later visits
to London Crabbe was most often their guest at the mansion on the summit
of the famous "Northern Height," with which, after Crabbe's death,
Wordsworth so touchingly associated his name, in the lines written on
the death of the Ettrick Shepherd and his brother-poets:

"Our haughty life is crowned with darkness,
Like London with its own black wreath,
On which with thee, O Crabbe, forth looking,
I gazed from Hampstead's breezy heath."

Between Samuel Hoare's hospitable roof and the _Hummums_ in Covent
Garden Crabbe seems to have alternated, according as his engagements in
town required.

But although living, as the Diary shows, in daily intercourse with the
literary and artistic world, tasting delights which were absolutely new
to him, Crabbe never forgot either his humble friends in Wiltshire, or
the claims of his own art. He kept in touch with Trowbridge, where his
son John was in charge, and sends instructions from time to time as to
poor pensioners and others who were not to be neglected in the weekly
ministrations. At the same time, he seems rarely to have omitted the
self-imposed task of adding daily to the pile of manuscript on which he
was at work--the collection of stories to be subsequently issued as
_Tales of the Hall_. Crabbe had resolved, in the face of whatever
distractions, to write if possible a fixed amount every day. More than
once in the Diary occur such entries as: "My thirty lines done; but not
well, I fear." "Thirty lines to-day, but not yesterday--must work up."
This anticipation of a method made famous later in the century by
Anthony Trollope may account (as also in Trollope's case) for certain
marked inequalities in the merit of the work thus turned out. At odd
times and in odd places were these verses sometimes composed. On a
certain Sunday morning in July 1817, after going to church at St.
James's, Piccadilly (or was it the Chapel Royal?), Crabbe wandered
eastward and found inspiration in the most unexpected quarter: "Write
some lines in the solitude of Somerset House, not fifty yards from the
Thames on one side, and the Strand on the other; but as quiet as the
sands of Arabia. I am not quite in good humour with this day; but,
happily, I cannot say why."

The last mysterious sentence is one of many scattered through, the
Diary, which, aided by dashes and omission-marks by the editorial son,
point to certain sentimentalisms in which Crabbe was still indulging,
even in the vortex of fashionable gaieties. We gather throughout that
the ladies he met interested him quite as much, or even more, than the
distinguished men of letters, and there are allusions besides to other
charmers at a distance. The following entry immediately precedes that of
the Sunday just quoted:--

"14th.--Some more intimate conversation this morning with
Mr. and Mrs. Moore. They mean to go to Trowbridge. He
is going to Paris, but will not stay long. Mrs. Spencer's
album. Agree to dine at Curzon Street. A welcome letter
from ----. This makes the day more cheerful. Suppose it
were so. Well, 'tis not! Go to Mr. Rogers, and take a farewell
visit to Highbury. Miss Rogers. Promise to go when ----.
Return early. Dine there, and purpose to see Mr.
Moore and Mr. Rogers in the morning when they set out for

On the whole, however, Crabbe may have found, when these fascinating
experiences were over, that there had been safety in a multitude. For he
seems to have been equally charmed with Rogers's sister, and William
Spencer's daughter, and the Countess of Bessborough, and a certain Mrs.
Wilson,--and, like Miss Snevellicci's papa, to have "loved them every

Meanwhile Crabbe was working steadily, while in London, at his new
poems. Though his minimum output was thirty lines a day, he often
produced more, and on one occasion he records eighty lines as the fruit
of a day's labour. During the year 1818 he was still at work, and in
September of that year he writes to Mary Leadbeater that his verses "are
not yet entirely ready, but do not want much that he can give them." He
was evidently correcting and perfecting to the best of his ability, and
(as I believe) profiting by the intellectual stimulus of his visit to
London, as well as by the higher standards of versification that he had
met with, even in writers inferior to himself. The six weeks in London
had given him advantages he had never enjoyed before. In his early days
under Burke's roof he had learned much from Burke himself, and from
Johnson and Fox, but he was then only a promising beginner. Now,
thirty-five years later, he met Rogers, Wordsworth, Campbell, Moore, as
social equals, and having, like them, won a public for himself. When his
next volumes appeared, the workmanship proved, as of old, unequal, but
here and there Crabbe showed a musical ear, and an individuality of
touch of a different order from anything he had achieved before. Mr.
Courthope and other critics hold that there are passages in Crabbe's
earliest poems, such as _The Village_, which have a metrical charm he
never afterwards attained. But I strongly suspect that in such passages
Crabbe had owed much to the revising hand of Burke, Johnson, and Fox.

In the spring of 1819 Crabbe was again in town, visiting at Holland
House, and dining at the Thatched House with the "Literary Society," of
which he had been elected a member, and which to-day still dines and
prospers. He was then preparing for the publication of his new Tales,
from the famous house in Albemarle Street. Two years before, in 1817, on
the strength doubtless of Rogers's strong recommendation, Murray had
made a very liberal offer for the new poems, and the copyright of all
Crabbe's previous works. For these, together, Murray had offered three
thousand pounds. Strangely enough, Rogers was at first dissatisfied with
the offer, holding that the sum should be paid for the new volumes
alone. He and a friend (possibly Campbell), who had conducted the
negotiation, accordingly went off to the house of Longman to see if they
could not get better terms. To their great discomfiture the Longmans
only offered L1000 for the privilege that Murray had valued at three
times the amount; and Crabbe and his friends were placed in a difficult
position. A letter of Moore to John Murray many years afterwards, when
Crabbe's _Memoir_ was in preparation, tells the sequel of the story, and
it may well be given in his words:

"In this crisis it was that Mr. Rogers and myself, anxious
to relieve our poor friend from his suspense, called upon
you, as you must well remember, in Albemarle Street; and
seldom have I watched a countenance with more solicitude,
or heard words that gave me much more pleasure than
when, on the subject being mentioned, you said 'Oh! yes.
I have heard from Mr. Crabbe, and look upon the matter as
all settled.' I was rather pressed, I remember, for time that
morning, having an appointment on some business of my
own, but Mr. Rogers insisted that I should accompany him
to Crabbe's lodgings, and enjoy the pleasure of seeing him
relieved from his suspense. We found him sitting in his
room, alone, and expecting the worst; but soon dissipated
all his fears by the agreeable intelligence which we brought.

"When he received the bills for L3000, we earnestly advised
that he should, without delay, deposit them in some safe hands;
but no--he must take them with him to Trowbridge, and show
them to his son John. They would hardly believe in his
good luck, at home, if they did not see the bills. On his
way down to Trowbridge, a friend at Salisbury, at whose
house he rested (Mr. Everett, the banker), seeing that he
carried these bills loosely in his waistcoat pocket, requested
to be allowed to take charge of them for him: but with
equal ill success. 'There was no fear,' he said, 'of his losing
them, and he must show them to his son John.'"

It was matter of common knowledge in the literary world of Crabbe's day
that John Murray did not on this occasion make a very prudent bargain,
and that in fact he lost heavily by his venture. No doubt his offer was
based upon the remarkable success of Crabbe's two preceding poems. _The
Borough_ had passed through six editions in the same number of years,
and the _Tales_ reached a fifth edition within two years of publication.
But for changes in progress in the poetic taste of the time, Murray
might safely have anticipated a continuance of Crabbe's popularity. But
seven years had elapsed since the appearance of the _Tales_, and in
these seven years much had happened. Byron had given to the world one by
one the four cantos of _Childe Harold_, as well as other poems rich in
splendid rhetoric and a lyric versatility far beyond Crabbe's reach.
Wordsworth's two volumes in 1815 contained by far the most important and
representative of his poems, and these were slowly but surely winning
him a public of his own, intellectual and thoughtful if not as yet
numerous. John Keats had made two appearances, in 1817 and 1818, and the
year following the publication of Crabbe's _Tales of the Hall_ was to
add to them the Odes and other poems constituting the priceless volume
of 1820--_Lamia and other Poems_. Again, for the lovers of
fiction--whom, as I have said, Crabbe had attracted quite as strongly as
the lovers of verse--Walter Scott had produced five or six of his finest
novels, and was adding to the circle of his admirers daily. By the side
of this fascinating prose, and still more fascinating metrical
versatility, Crabbe's resolute and plodding couplets might often seem
tame and wearisome. Indeed, at this juncture, the rhymed heroic couplet,
as a vehicle for the poetry of imagination, was tottering to its fall,
though it lingered for many years as the orthodox form for university
prize poems, and for occasional didactic or satirical effusions. Crabbe,
very wisely, remained faithful to the metre. For his purpose, and with
his subjects and special gifts, none probably would have served him
better. For narrative largely blended with the analytical and the
epigrammatic method neither the stanza nor blank-verse (had he ever
mastered it) would have sufficed. But in Crabbe's last published volumes
it was not only the metre that was to seem flat and monotonous in the
presence of new proofs of the boundless capabilities of verse. The
reader would not make much progress in these volumes without
discovering that the depressing incidents of life, its disasters and
distresses, were still Crabbe's prevailing theme. John Murray in the
same season published Rogers's _Human Life_ and Crabbe's _Tales of the
Hall_. The publisher sent Crabbe a copy of the former, and he
acknowledged it in a few lines as follows:

"I am anxious that Mr. Rogers should have all the
success he can desire. I am more indebted to him than I
could bear to think of, if I had not the highest esteem. It
will give me great satisfaction to find him cordially admired.
His is a favourable picture, and such he loves so do I, but
men's vices and follies come into my mind, and spoil my

Assuredly no more striking antithesis to Crabbe's habitual impressions
of human life can be found than in the touching and often beautiful
couplets of Rogers, a poet as neglected today as Crabbe. Rogers's
picture of wedded happiness finds no parallel, I think, anywhere in the
pages of his brother-poet:--

"Across the threshold led,
And every tear kissed off as soon as shed,
His house she enters, there to be a light
Shining within, when all without is night;
A guardian angel o'er his life presiding,
Doubling his pleasures, and his cares dividing!
How oft her eyes read his; her gentle mind
To all his wishes, all his thoughts, inclined;
Still subject--ever on the watch to borrow
Mirth of his mirth, and sorrow of his sorrow.
The soul of music slumbers in the shell,
Till waked to rapture by the master's spell;
And feeling hearts--touch them but rightly--pour
A thousand melodies unheard before."

It may be urged that Rogers exceeds in one direction as unjustifiably
as Crabbe in the opposite. But there is room in poetry for both points
of view, though the absolute--the Shakespearian--grasp of Human Life may
be truer and more eternally convincing than either.




The _Tales of the Hall_ were published by John Murray in June 1819, in
two handsome octavo volumes, with every advantage of type, paper, and
margin. In a letter of Crabbe to Mrs. Leadbeater, in October 1817, he
makes reference to these Tales, already in preparation. He tells his
correspondent that "Remembrances" was the title for them proposed by his
friends. We learn from another source that a second title had been
suggested, "Forty Days--a Series of Tales told at Binning Hall." Finally
Mr. Murray recommended _Tales of the Hall_, and this was adopted.

In the same letter to Mrs. Leadbeater, Crabbe writes: "I know not how to
describe the new, and probably (most probably) the last work I shall
publish. Though a village is the scene of meeting between my two
principal characters, and gives occasion to other characters and
relations in general, yet I no more describe the manners of village
inhabitants. My people are of superior classes, though not the most
elevated; and, with a few exceptions, are of educated and cultivated
minds and habits." In making this change Crabbe was also aware that some
kind of unity must be given to those new studies of human life. And he
found at least a semblance of this unity in ties of family or friendship
uniting the tellers of them. Moreover Crabbe, who had a wide and even
intimate knowledge of English, poetry, was well acquainted with the
_Canterbury Tales_, and he bethought him that he would devise a
framework. And the plan he worked out was as follows:

"The Hall" under whose roof the stories and conversations arise is a
gentleman's house, apparently in the eastern counties, inhabited by the
elder of two brothers, George and Richard. George, an elderly bachelor,
who had made a sufficient fortune in business, has retired to this
country seat, which stands upon the site of a humbler dwelling where
George had been born and spent his earliest years. The old home of his
youth had subsequently passed into the hands of a man of means, who had
added to it, improved the surroundings, and turned it into a modern and
elegant villa. It was again in the market when George was seeking a
retreat for his old age, and he purchased it--glad, even under the
altered conditions, to live again among the loved surroundings of his

George has a half-brother, Richard, much younger than himself. They are
the children of the same mother who, some years after her first
widowhood, had married an Irish gentleman, of mercurial habit, by whom
she had this second child. George had already left home to earn his
living, with the consequence that the two brothers had scarcely ever met
until the occasion upon which the story opens. Richard, after first
trying the sea as a profession, had entered the army during the war with
Napoleon; distinguished himself in the Peninsula; and finally returned
to his native country, covered with glory and enjoying a modest
pension. He woos and wins the daughter of a country clergyman, marries,
and finds a young family growing up around him. He is filled with a
desire to resume friendly relations with his half-brother George, but is
deterred from making the first advances. George, hearing of this through
a common friend, cordially responds, and Richard is invited to spend a
few weeks at Binning Hall. The two brothers, whose bringing up had been
so different, and whose ideas and politics were far removed,
nevertheless find their mutual companionship very pleasant, and every
evening over their port wine relate their respective adventures and
experiences, while George has also much to tell of his friends and
neighbours around him. The clergyman of the parish, a former fellow of
his college, often makes a third at these meetings; and thus a
sufficient variety of topic is insured. The tales that these three tell,
with the conversations arising out of them, form the subject matter of
these _Tales of the Hall_. Crabbe devised a very pleasant means of
bringing the brother's visit to a close. When the time originally
proposed for the younger brother's stay is nearing its end, the brothers
prepare to part. At first, the younger is somewhat disconcerted that his
elder brother seemed to take his departure so little to heart. But this
display of indifference proves to be only an amiable _ruse_ on the part
of George. On occasion of a final ride together through the neighbouring
country, George asks for his brother's opinion about a purchase he has
recently made, of a pleasant house and garden adjoining his own
property. It then turns out that the generous George has bought the
place as a home for his brother, who will in future act as George's
agent or steward. On approaching and entering the house, Richard finds
his wife and children, who have been privately informed of the
arrangement, already installed, and eagerly waiting to welcome husband
and father to this new and delightful home.

Throughout the development of this story with its incidental narratives,
Crabbe has managed, as in previous poems, to make large use of his own
personal experience. The Hall proves to be a modern gentleman's
residence constructed out of a humbler farmhouse by additions and
alterations in the building and its surroundings, which was precisely
the fate which had befallen Mr. Tovell's old house which had come to the
Crabbe family, and had been parted with by them to one of the Suffolk
county families. "Moated Granges" were common in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Mr. Tovel's house had had a moat, and this too had been a feature of
George's paternal home:

"It was an ancient, venerable Hall,
And once surrounded by a moat and wall;
A part was added by a squire of taste
Who, while unvalued acres ran to waste,
Made spacious rooms, whence he could look about,
And mark improvements as they rose without;
He fill'd the moat, he took the wall away,
He thinn'd the park and bade the view be gay."

In this instance, the squire who had thus altered the property had been
forced to sell it, and George was thus able to return to the old
surroundings of his boyhood. In the third book, _Boys at School_, George
relates some of his recollections, which include the story of a
school-fellow, who having some liking for art but not much talent,
finds his ambitions defeated, and dies of chagrin in consequence. This
was in fact the true story of a brother of Crabbe's wife, Mr. James
Elmy. Later, again, in the work the rector of the parish is described,
and the portrait drawn is obviously that of Crabbe himself, as he
appeared to his Dissenting parishioners at Muston:

"'A moral teacher!' some, contemptuous, cried;
He smiled, but nothing of the fact denied,
Nor, save by his fair life, to charge so strong replied.
Still, though he bade them not on aught rely
That was their own, but all their worth deny,
They called his pure advice his cold morality.

* * * * *

He either did not, or he would not see,
That if he meant a favourite priest to be,
He must not show, but learn of them, the way
To truth--he must not dictate, but obey;
They wish'd him not to bring them further light,
But to convince them that they now were right
And to assert that justice will condemn
All who presumed to disagree with them:
In this he fail'd, and his the greater blame,
For he persisted, void of fear or shame."

There is a touch of bitterness in these lines that is unmistakably that
of a personal grievance, even if the poet's son had not confirmed the
inference in a foot-note.

Book IV. is devoted to the _Adventures of Richard_, which begin with his
residence with his mother near a small sea-port (evidently Aldeburgh);
and here we once more read of the boy, George Crabbe, watching and
remembering every aspect of the storms, and making friends with the
wives and children of the sailors and the smugglers:

"I loved to walk where none had walk'd before,
About the rocks that ran along the shore;
Or far beyond the sight of men to stray,
And take my pleasure when I lost my way;
For then 'twas mine to trace the hilly heath,
And all the mossy moor that lies beneath:
Here had I favourite stations, where I stood
And heard the murmurs of the ocean-flood,
With not a sound beside except when flew
Aloft the lapwing, or the grey curlew,
Who with wild notes my fancied power defied,
And mock'd the dreams of solitary pride."

And as Crabbe evidently resorts gladly to personal experiences to make
out the material for his work, the same also holds with regard to the
incidental Tales. Crabbe refers in his Preface to two of these as not of
his own invention, and his son, in the Notes, admits the same of others.
One, as we have seen, happened in the Elmy family; another was sent him
by a friend in Wiltshire, to which county the story belonged; while the
last in the series, and perhaps the most painful of all, _Smugglers, and
Poachers_ was told to Crabbe by Sir Samuel Romilly, whom he had met at
Hampstead, only a few weeks before Romilly's own tragic death. Probably
other tales, not referred to by Crabbe or his son, were also encountered
by the poet in his intercourse with his parishioners, or submitted to
him by his friends. We might infer this from the singular inequality, in
interest and poetical opportunity, of the various plots of these
stories. Some of them are assuredly not such as any poet would have sat
down and elaborated for himself, and it is strange how little sense
Crabbe seems to have possessed as to which were worth treating, or could
even admit of artistic treatment at all. A striking instance is afforded
by the strange and most unpleasing history, entitled _Lady Barbara: or,
The Ghost_.

The story is as follows: A young and beautiful lady marries early a
gentleman of good family who dies within a year of their marriage. In
spite of many proposals she resolves to remain a widow; and for the sake
of congenial society and occupation, she finds a home in the family of a
pious clergyman, where she devotes herself to his young children, and
makes herself useful in the parish. Her favourite among the children is
a boy, George, still in the schoolroom. The boy grows apace; goes to
boarding-school and college; and is on the point of entering the army,
when he discovers that he is madly in love with the lady, still an
inmate of the house, who had "mothered him" when a child. No ages are
mentioned, but we may infer that the young man is then about two and
twenty, and the lady something short of forty. The position is not
unimaginable, though it may be uncommon. The idea of marrying one who
had been to her as a favourite child, seems to the widow in the first
instance repulsive and almost criminal. But it turns out that there is
another reason in the background for her not re-entering the marriage
state, which she discloses to the ardent youth. It appears that the
widow had once had a beloved brother who had died early. Those two had
been brought up by an infidel father, who had impressed on his children
the absurdity of all such ideas as immortality. The children had often
discussed and pondered over this subject together, and had made a
compact that whichever of them died first should, if possible, appear to
the survivor, and thus solve the awful problem of a future life. The
brother not long after died in foreign parts. Immediately after his
death, before the sister heard the news, the brother's ghost appeared in
a dream, or vision, to the sister, and warned her in solemn tones
against ever marrying a second time. The spirit does not appear to have
given any reasons, but his manner was so impressive and so unmistakable
that the lady had thus far regarded it as an injunction never to be
disobeyed. On hearing this remarkable story, the young man, George,
argues impatiently against the trustworthiness of dreams, and is hardly
silenced by the widow showing him on her wrist the mark still remaining
where the spirit had seized and pressed her hand. In fine, the
impassioned suitor prevails over these superstitious terrors, as he
reckons them, of the lady--and they become man and wife.

The reader is here placed in a condition of great perplexity, and his
curiosity becomes breathless. The sequel is melancholy indeed. After a
few months' union, the young man, whose plausible eloquence had so moved
the widow, tires of his wife, ill-treats her, and breaks her heart. The
Psychical Society is avenged, and the ghost's word was worth at least "a
thousand pounds." It is difficult for us to take such a story seriously,
but it must have interested Crabbe deeply, for he has expended upon it
much of his finest power of analysis, and his most careful writing. As
we have seen, the subject of dreams had always had a fascination for
him, of a kind not unconnected perhaps with the opium-habit. The story,
however it was to be treated, was unpromising; but as the _denouement_
was what it proved to be, the astonishing thing is that Crabbe should
not have felt the dramatic impropriety of putting into the young man's
mouth passages of an impressive, and almost Shakespearian, beauty such
as are rare indeed in his poetry. The following lines are not indeed
placed within inverted commas, but the pronoun "I" is retained, and they
are apparently intended for something passing in the young suitor's

"O! tell me not of years,--can she be old?
Those eyes, those lips, can man unmoved behold?
Has time that bosom chill'd? are cheeks so rosy cold?
No, she is young, or I her love t'engage
Will grow discreet, and that will seem like age:
But speak it not; Death's equalising age
Levels not surer than Love's stronger charm,
That bids all inequalities be gone,
That laughs at rank, that mocks comparison.
There is not young or old, if Love decrees;
He levels orders, he confounds degrees:
There is not fair, or dark, or short, or tall,
Or grave, or sprightly--Love reduces all;
He makes unite the pensive and the gay,
Gives something here, takes something there away;
From each abundant good a portion takes,
And for each want a compensation makes;
Then tell me not of years--Love, power divine,
Takes, as he wills, from hers, and gives to mine."

In those fine lines it is no doubt Crabbe himself that speaks, and not
the young lover, who was to turn out in the sequel an unparalleled
"cad." But then, what becomes of dramatic consistency, and the
imperative claims of art?

In the letter to Mrs. Leadbeater already cited Crabbe
writes as to his forthcoming collection of Tales: "I do not know, on a
general view, whether my tragic or lighter Tales, etc., are most in
number. Of those equally well executed the tragic will, I suppose, make
the greater impression." Crabbe was right in this forecast. Whether more
or less in number, the "tragic" Tales far surpass the "lighter" in their
effect on the reader, in the intensity of their gloom. Such stories as
that of _Lady Barbara, Delay has Danger, The Sisters, Ellen, Smugglers
and Poachers_, Richard's story of _Ruth_, and the elder brother's
account of his own early attachment, with its miserable sequel--all
these are of a poignant painfulness. Human crime, error, or selfishness
working life-long misery to others--this is the theme to which Crabbe
turns again and again, and on which he bestows a really marvellous power
of analysis. There is never wanting, side by side with these, what
Crabbe doubtless believed to be the compensating presence of much that
is lovable in human character, patience, resignation, forgiveness. But
the resultant effect, it must be confessed, is often the reverse of
cheering. The fine lines of Wordsworth as to

"Sorrow that is not sorrow, but delight;
And miserable love, that is not pain
To hear of, for the glory that redounds
Therefrom to human kind, and what we are,"

fail to console us as we read these later stories of Crabbe. We part
from too many of them not, on the whole, with a livelier faith in human
nature. We are crushed by the exhibition of so much that is abnormally
base and sordid.

The _Tales of the Hall_ are full of surprises even to
those familiar with Crabbe's earlier poems. He can still allow couplets
to stand which are perilously near to doggerel; and, on the other hand,
when his deepest interest in the fortunes of his characters is aroused,
he rises at times to real eloquence, if never to poetry's supremest
heights. Moreover, the poems contain passages of description which, for
truth to Nature, touched by real imagination, are finer than anything he
had yet achieved. The story entitled _Delay has Danger_ contains the
fine picture of an autumn landscape seen through the eyes of the
miserable lover--the picture which dwelt so firmly in the memory of

"That evening all in fond discourse was spent,
When the sad lover to his chamber went,
To think on what had pass'd, to grieve, and to repent:
Early he rose, and looked with many a sigh
On the red light that fill'd the eastern sky:
Oft had he stood before, alert and gay,
To hail the glories of the new-born day;
But now dejected, languid, listless, low,
He saw the wind upon the water blow,
And the cold stream curl'd onward as the gale
From the pine-hill blew harshly down the dale;
On the right side the youth a wood survey'd,
With all its dark intensity of shade;
Where the rough wind alone was heard to move,
In this, the pause of nature and of love,
When now the young are rear'd, and when the old,
Lost to the tie, grow negligent and cold--
Far to the left he saw the huts of men,
Half hid in mist that hung upon the fen;
Before him swallows, gathering for the sea,
Took their short flights, and twitter'd on the lea;
And near the bean-sheaf stood, the harvest done,
And slowly blacken'd in the sickly sun;
All these were sad in nature, or they took
Sadness from him, the likeness of his look,
And of his mind--he ponder'd for a while,
Then met his Fanny with a borrow'd smile."

The entire story, from which this is an extract, is finely told, and the
fitness of the passage is beyond dispute. At other times the description
is either so much above the level of the narrative, or below it, as to
be almost startling. In the very first pages of _Tales of the Hall_, in
the account of the elder brother's early retirement from business, occur
the following musical lines:

"He chose his native village, and the hill
He climb'd a boy had its attraction still;
With that small brook beneath, where he would stand
And stooping fill the hollow of his hand
To quench th' impatient thirst--then stop awhile
To see the sun upon the waters smile,
In that sweet weariness, when, long denied,
We drink and view the fountain that supplied
The sparkling bliss--and feel, if not express,
Our perfect ease in that sweet weariness."

Yet it is only a hundred lines further on that, to indicate the elder
brother's increasing interest in the graver concerns of human thought,
Crabbe can write:

"He then proceeded, not so much intent,
But still in earnest, and to church he went
Although they found some difference in their creed,
He and his pastor cordially agreed;
Convinced that they who would the truth obtain
By disputation, find their efforts vain;
The church he view'd as liberal minds will view,
And there he fix'd his principles and pew."

Among those surprises to which I have referred is the apparently recent
development in the poet of a lyrical gift, the like of which he had not
exhibited before. Crabbe had already written two notable poems in
stanzas, _Sir Eustace Grey_ and that other painful but exceedingly
powerful drama in monologue, _The Hall of Justice_. But since the
appearance of his last volumes, Crabbe had formed some quite novel
poetical friendships, and it would seem likely that association with
Rogers, though he saw and felt that elegant poet's deficiencies as a
painter of human life, had encouraged him to try an experiment in his
friend's special vein. One of the most depressing stories in the series
is that of the elder brother's ill-fated passion for a beautiful girl,
to whom he had been the accidental means of rendering a vital service in
rescuing her and a companion from the "rude uncivil kine" in a meadow.
To the image of this girl, though he never set eyes on her again for
many years, he had remained faithful. The next meeting, when at last it
came, brought the most terrible of disillusions. Sent by his chief to
transact certain business with a wealthy banker ("Clutterbuck & Co."),
the young merchant calls at a villa where the banker at times resided,
and finds that the object of his old love and his fondest dreams is
there installed as the banker's mistress. She is greatly moved at the
sight of the youthful lover of old days, who, with more chivalry than
prudence, offers forgiveness if she will break off this degrading
alliance. She cannot resolve to take the step. She has become used to
luxury and continuous amusement, and she cannot face the return to a
duller domesticity. Finally, however, she dies penitent, and it is the
contemplation of her life and death that works a life-long change in the
ambitions and aims of the old lover. He wearies of money-making, and
retires to lead a country life, where he may be of some good to his
neighbours, and turn to some worthy use the time that may be still
allowed him. The story is told with real pathos and impressive force.
But the picture is spoiled by the tasteless interpolation of a song
which the unhappy girl sings to her lover, at the very moment apparently
when she has resolved that she can never be his:

"My Damon was the first to wake
The gentle flame that cannot die;
My Damon is the last to take
The faithful bosom's softest sigh;
The life between is nothing worth,
O! cast it from thy thought away;
Think of the day that gave it birth,
And this its sweet returning day.

"Buried be all that has been done,
Or say that nought is done amiss;
For who the dangerous path can shun
In such bewildering world as this?
But love can every fault forgive,
Or with a tender look reprove;
And now let nought in memory live,
But that we meet, and that we love."

The lines are pretty enough, and may be described as a blend of Tom
Moore and Rogers. A similar lyric, in the story called _The Sisters_,
might have come straight from the pen which has given us "Mine be a cot
beside a hill," and is not so wholly irrelevant to its context as the
one just cited.

Since Crabbe's death in 1832, though he has never been without a small
and loyal band of admirers, no single influence has probably had so much
effect in reviving interest in his poetry as that of Edward FitzGerald,
the translator of Omar Khayyam. FitzGerald was born and lived the
greater part of his life in Suffolk, and Crabbe was a native of
Aldeburgh, and lived in the neighbourhood till he was grown to manhood.
This circumstance alone might not have specially interested FitzGerald
in the poet, but for the fact that the temperament of the two men was
somewhat the same, and that both dwelt naturally on the depressing sides
of human life. But there were other coincidences to create a strong tie
between FitzGerald and the poet's family. When FitzGerald's father went
to live at Boulge Hall, near Woodbridge, in 1835, Crabbe's son George
had recently been presented to the vicarage of the adjoining parish of
Bredfield (FitzGerald's native village), which he continued to hold
until his death in 1857. During these two and twenty years, FitzGerald
and George Crabbe remained on the closest terms of friendship, which was
continued with George Crabbe's son (a third George), who became
ultimately rector of Merton in Norfolk. It was at his house, it will be
remembered, that FitzGerald died suddenly in the summer of 1883. Through
this long association with the family FitzGerald was gradually acquiring
information concerning the poet, which even the son's _Biography_ had
not supplied. Readers of FitzGerald's delightful _Letters_ will remember
that there is no name more constantly referred to than that of Crabbe.
Whether writing to Fanny Kemble, or Frederick Tennyson, or Lowell, he is
constantly quoting him, and recommending him. During the thirty years
that followed Crabbe's death his fame had been on the decline, and poets
of different and greater gifts had taken his place. FitzGerald had
noted this fact with ever-increasing regret, and longed to revive the
taste for a poet of whose merits he had himself no doubt. He discerned
moreover that even those who had read in their youth _The Village_ and
_The Borough_ had been repelled by the length, and perhaps by the
monotonous sadness, of the _Tales of the Hall_. It was for this reason
apparently (and not because he assigned a higher place to the later
poetry than to the earlier) that he was led, after some years of
misgiving, to prepare a volume of selections from this latest work of
Crabbe's which might have the effect of tempting the reader to master it
as a whole. Owing to the length and uniformity of Crabbe's verse, what
was ordinarily called an "anthology" was out of the question. FitzGerald
was restricted to a single method. He found that readers were impatient
of Crabbe's _longueurs_. It occurred to him that while making large
omissions he might preserve the story in each case, by substituting
brief prose abstracts of the portions omitted. This process he applied
to the Tales that pleased him most, leaving what he considered Crabbe's
best passages untouched. As early as 1876 he refers to the selection as
already made, and he printed it for private circulation in 1879.
Finally, in 1882, he added a preface of his own, and published it with
Quaritch in Piccadilly.

In his preface FitzGerald claims for Crabbe's latest work that the net
impression left by it upon the reader is less sombre and painful than
that left by his earlier poems. "It contains," he urges, "scarce
anything of that brutal or sordid villainy of which one has more than
enough in the poet's earlier work." Perhaps there is not so much of the
"brutal or sordid," but then in _The_ _Parish Register_ or _The
Borough_, the reader is in a way prepared for that ingredient, because
the personages are the lawless and neglected poor of a lonely seaport.
It is because, when he moves no longer among these, he yet finds vice
and misery quite as abundant in "a village with its tidy homestead, and
well-to-do tenants, within easy reach of a thriving country-town," that
a certain shock is given to the reader. He discovers that all the evil
passions intrude (like pale Death) into the comfortable villa as
impartially as into the hovels at Aldeburgh. But FitzGerald had found a
sufficient alleviation of the gloom in the framework of the Tales. The
growing affection of the two brothers, as they come to know and
understand each other better, is one of the consistently pleasant
passages in Crabbe's writings. The concluding words of FitzGerald's
preface, as the little volume is out of print and very scarce, I may be
allowed to quote:--

"Is Crabbe then, whatever shape he may take, worth
making room for in our over-crowded heads and libraries?
If the verdict of such critics as Jeffrey and Wilson be set
down to contemporary partiality or inferior 'culture,' there is
Miss Austen, who is now so great an authority in the representation
of genteel humanity, so unaccountably smitten with
Crabbe in his worsted hose that she is said to have pleasantly
declared he was the only man whom she would care to marry.
If Sir Walter Scott and Byron are but unaesthetic judges of the
poet, there is Wordsworth who was sufficiently exclusive in
admitting any to the sacred brotherhood in which he still
reigns, and far too honest to make any exception out of
compliment to any one on any occasion--he did nevertheless
thus write to the poet's son and biographer in 1834: 'Any
testimony to the merit of your revered father's works would,
I feel, be superfluous, if not impertinent. They will last
from their combined merits as poetry and truth, full as long
as anything that has been expressed in verse since they first
made their appearance'--a period which, be it noted, includes
all Wordsworth's own volumes except _Yarrow Revisited_, _The
Prelude_, and _The Borderers_. And Wordsworth's living successor
to the laurel no less participates with him in his
appreciation of their forgotten brother. Almost the last time
I met him he was quoting from memory that fine passage in
_Delay has Danger_, where the late autumn landscape seems to
borrow from the conscience-stricken lover who gazes on it the
gloom which it reflects upon him; and in the course of further
conversation on the subject Mr. Tennyson added, 'Crabbe has
a world of his own'; by virtue of that original genius, I
suppose, which is said to entitle and carry the possessor to
what we call immortality."

Besides the stories selected for abridgment in the volume there were
passages, from Tales not there included, which FitzGerald was never
weary of citing in his letters, to show his friends how true a poet was
lying neglected of men. One he specially loved is the description of an
autumn day in _The Maid's Story_:--

"There was a day, ere yet the autumn closed,
When, ere her wintry wars, the earth reposed;
When from the yellow weed the feathery crown,
Light as the curling smoke, fell slowly down;
When the winged insect settled in our sight,
And waited wind to recommence her flight;
When the wide river was a silver sheet,
And on the ocean slept th' unanchor'd fleet,
When from our garden, as we looked above,
There was no cloud, and nothing seemed to move."

Another passage, also in Crabbe's sweeter vein, forms the conclusion of
the whole poem. It is where the elder brother hands over to the younger
the country house that is to form the future home of his
wife and children:--

"It is thy wife's, and will thy children's be,
Earth, wood, and water! all for thine and thee.
* * * * *
There wilt thou soon thy own Matilda view,
She knows our deed, and she approves it too;
Before her all our views and plans were laid,
And Jacques was there to explain and to persuade.
Here on this lawn thy boys and girls shall run,
And play their gambols when their tasks are done,
There, from that window shall their mother view
The happy tribe, and smile at all they do;
While thou, more gravely, hiding thy delight
Shalt cry, 'O! childish!' and enjoy the sight."

FitzGerald's selections are made with the skill and judgment we should
expect from a critic of so fine a taste, but it may be doubted whether
any degree of skill could have quite atoned for one radical flaw in his
method. He seems to have had his own misgivings as to whether he was
not, by that method, giving up one real secret of Crabbe's power. After
quoting Sir Leslie Stephen's most true remark that "with all its
short-and long-comings Crabbe's better work leaves its mark on the
reader's mind and memory as only the work of genius can, while so many a
more splendid vision of the fancy slips away, leaving scarce a mark
behind." FitzGerald adds: "If this abiding impression result (as perhaps
in the case of Richardson or Wordsworth) from being, as it were, soaked
in through the longer process by which the man's peculiar genius works,
any abridgement, whether of omission or epitome, will diminish from the
effect of the whole." FitzGerald is unquestionably in sight of a truth
here. The parallel with Wordsworth is indeed not exact, for the best of
Wordsworth's poetry neither requires nor admits of condensation. _The
Excursion_ might benefit by omission and compression, but not _The
Solitary Reaper_, nor _The Daffodils_. But the example of Richardson is
fairly in point. Abridgments of _Clarissa Harlowe_ have been attempted,
but probably without any effect on the number of its readers. The power
of Richardson's method does actually lie in the "soaking process" to
which FitzGerald refers. Nor is it otherwise with Crabbe. The
fascination which his readers find in him--readers not perhaps found in
the ranks of those who prefer their poetry on "hand-made paper"--is
really the result of the slow and patient dissection of motive and
temptation, the workings of conscience, the gradual development of
character. These processes are slow, and Crabbe's method of presenting
them is slow, but he attains his end. A distinction has lately been
drawn between "literary Poetry," and "Poetry which is Literature."
Crabbe's is rarely indeed that of the former class. It cannot be denied
that it has taken its place in the latter.

The apology for Crabbe's lengthiness might almost be extended to the
singular inequalities of his verse. FitzGerald joins all other critics
in regretting his carelessness, and indeed the charge can hardly be
called harsh. A poet who habitually insists on producing thirty lines a
day, whether or no the muse is willing, can hardly escape temptations to
carelessness. Crabbe's friends and other contemporaries noted it, and
expressed surprise at the absence in Crabbe of the artistic conscience.
Wordsworth spoke to him on the subject, and ventured to express regret
that he did not take more pains with the workmanship of his verse, and
reports that Crabbe's only answer was "it does not matter." Samuel
Rogers had related to Wordsworth a similar experience. "Mr. Rogers once
told me that he expressed his regret to Crabbe that he wrote in his
later works so much less correctly than in his earlier. 'Yes,' replied
he, 'but then I had a reputation to make; now I can afford to relax.'"
This is of course very sad, and, as has already been urged, Crabbe's
earlier works had the advantage of much criticism, and even correction
from his friends. But however this may be, it may fairly be urged that
in a "downright" painter of human life, with that passion for realism
which Crabbe was one of the first to bring back into our literature,
mere "polish" would have hindered, not helped, the effects he was bent
on producing. It is difficult in polishing the heroic couplet not to
produce the impression of seeking epigrammatic point. In Crabbe's
strenuous and merciless analyses of human character his power would have
been often weakened, had attention been diverted from the whole to the
parts, and from the matter to the manner. The "finish" of Gray,
Goldsmith, and Rogers suited exquisitely with their pensive musings on
Human Life. It was otherwise with the stern presentment of such stories
of human sin and misery as _Edward Shore_ or _Delay has Danger._




The last thirteen years of Crabbe's life were spent at Trowbridge,
varied by occasional absences among hiss friends at Bath, and in the
neighbourhood, and by annual visits of greater length to the family of
Samuel Hoare at Hampstead. Meantime his son John was resident with him
at Trowbridge, and the parish and parishioners were not neglected. From
Mrs. Hoare's house on Hampstead Heath it was not difficult to visit his
literary friends in London; and Wordsworth, Southey, and others,
occasionally stayed with the family. But as early as 1820, Crabbe became
subject to frequent severe attacks of neuralgia (then called _tic
douloureux_), and this malady, together with the gradual approach of old
age, made him less and less able to face the fatigue of London

Notwithstanding his failing health, and not infrequent absence from his
parish--for he occasionally visited the Isle of Wight, Hastings, and
other watering-places with his Hampstead friends--Crabbe was living down
at Trowbridge much of the unpopularity with which he had started. The
people were beginning to discover what sterling qualities of heart
existed side by side with defects of tact and temper, and the lack of
sympathy with certain sides of evangelical teaching. His son tells us,
and may be trusted, that his father's personal piety deepened in his
declining years, an influence which could not be ineffectual. Children,
moreover, were growing up in the family, and proved a new source of
interest and happiness. Pucklechurch. was not far away, and his son
George's eldest girl, Caroline, as she approached her fourth birthday,
began to receive from him the tenderest of letters.

The most important incident in Crabbe's life during this period was his
visit to Walter Scott in Edinburgh in the early autumn of 1822. In the
spring of that year, Crabbe had for the first time met Scott in London,
and Scott had obtained from him a promise that he would visit him in
Scotland in the autumn. It so fell out that George the Fourth, who had
been crowned in the previous year, and was paying a series of Coronation
progresses through his dominions, had arranged to visit Edinburgh in the
August of this year. Whether Crabbe deliberately chose the same period
for his own visit, or stumbled on it accidentally, and Scott did not
care to disappoint his proposed guest, is not made quite clear by
Crabbe's biographer. Scott had to move with all his family to his house
in Edinburgh for the great occasion, and he would no doubt have much
preferred to receive Crabbe at Abbotsford. Moreover, it fell to Scott,
as the most distinguished man of letters and archaeologist in Edinburgh,
to organise all the ceremonies and the festivities necessary for the
King's reception. In Lockhart's phrase, Scott stage-managed the whole
business. And it was on Scott's return from receiving the King on board
the Royal yacht on the 14th of August that he found awaiting him in
Castle Street one who must have been an inconvenient guest. The
incidents of this first meeting are so charmingly related by Lockhart
that I cannot resist repeating them in his words, well known though they
may be:--

"On receiving the poet on the quarter-deck, his Majesty
called for a bottle of Highland whisky, and having drunk his
health in this national liquor, desired a glass to be filled for
him. Sir Walter, after draining his own bumper, made a
request that the king would condescend to bestow on him the
glass out of which his Majesty had just drunk his health: and
this being granted, the precious vessel was immediately
wrapped up and carefully deposited in what he conceived to
be the safest part of his dress. So he returned with it to
Castle Street; but--to say nothing at this moment of graver
distractions--on reading his house he found a guest established
there of a sort rather different from the usual visitors
of the time. The Poet Crabbe, to whom he had been introduced
when last in London by Mr. Murray of Albemarle
Street, after repeatedly promising to follow up the acquaintance
by an excursion to the North, had at last arrived in the
midst of these tumultuous preparations for the royal advent.
Notwithstanding all such impediments, he found his quarters
ready for him, and Scott entering, wet and hurried, embraced
the venerable man with brotherly affection. The royal gift
was forgotten--the ample skirt of the coat within which it had
been packed, and which he had hitherto held cautiously in
front of his person, slipped back to its more usual position--he
sat down beside Crabbe, and the glass was crushed to
atoms. His scream and gesture made his wife conclude that
he had sat down on a pair of scissors, or the like: but very
little harm had been done except the breaking of the glass, of
which alone he had been thinking. This was a damage not to
be repaired: as for the scratch that accompanied it, its scar
was of no great consequence, as even when mounting the
'cat-dath, or battle-garment' of the Celtic Club, he adhered,
like his hero, Waverley, to _the trews_."

What follows in Lockhart's pages is also too interesting, as regards
Scott's visitor himself, to be omitted. The Highland clans, or what
remained of them, were represented on the occasion, and added greatly to
the picturesqueness of the procession and other pageantry. And this is
what occurred on the morning after the meeting of Scott and his guest:--

"By six o'clock next morning Sir Walter, arrayed in the
'Garb of old Gaul,' (which he had of the Campbell tartan, in
memory of one of his great-grandmothers) was attending a
muster of these gallant Celts in the Queen Street Gardens,
where he had the honour of presenting them with it set of
colours, and delivered a suitable exhortation, crowned with
their rapturous applause. Some members of the Club, all of
course in their full costume, were invited to breakfast with
him. He had previously retired for a little to his library, and
when he entered the parlour, Mr. Crabbe, dressed in the
highest style of professional neatness and decorum, with
buckles in his shoes, and whatever was then befitting an
English clergyman of his years and station, was standing in
the midst of half-a-dozen stalwart Highlanders, exchanging
elaborate civilities with them in what was at least meant to
be French. He had come into the room shortly before, without
having been warned about such company, and hearing the
party conversing together in an unknown tongue, the polite
old man had adopted, in his first salutation, what he considered
as the universal language. Some of the Celts, on their
part, took him for some foreign Abbe or Bishop, and were
doing their best to explain to him that they were not the
wild savages for which, from the startled glance he had thrown
on their hirsute proportions, there seemed but too much reason
to suspect he had taken them; others, more perspicacious,
gave in to the thing for the joke's sake; and there was high
fun when Scott dissolved the charm of their stammering, by
grasping Crabbe with one hand, and the nearest of these
figures with the other, and greeted the whole group with the
same hearty _good-morning_."

In spite, however, of banquets (at one of which Crabbe was present) and
other constant calls upon his host's time and labour, the southern poet
contrived to enjoy himself. He wandered into the oldest parts of
Edinburgh, and Scott obtained for him the services of a friendly caddie
to accompany him on some of these occasions lest the old parson should
come to any harm. Lockhart, who was of the party in Castle Street, was
very attentive to Scott's visitor, Crabbe had but few opportunities of
seeing Scott alone. "They had," writes Lockhart, "but one quiet walk
together, and it was to the ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel and Mushat's
Cairn, which the deep impression made on Crabbe by _The Heart of
Midlothian_ had given him an earnest wish to see. I accompanied them;
and the hour so spent--in the course of which the fine old man gave us
some most touching anecdotes of his early struggles--was a truly
delightful contrast to the bustle and worry of miscellaneous society
which consumed so many of his few hours in Scotland. Scott's family were
more fortunate than himself in this respect. They had from infancy been
taught to reverence Crabbe's genius, and they now saw enough of him to
make them think of him ever afterwards with tender affection."

Yet one more trait of Scott's interest in his guest should not be
omitted. The strain upon Scott's strength of the King's visit was made
more severe by the death during that fortnight of Scott's old and dear
friend, William Erskine, only a few months before elevated to the bench,
with the title of Lord Kinedder. Erskine had been irrecoverably wounded
by the circulation of a cruel and unfounded slander upon his moral
character. It so preyed on his mind that its effect was, in Scott's
words, to "torture to death one of the most soft-hearted and sensitive
of God's creatures." On the very day of the King's arrival he died,
after high fever and delirium had set in, and his funeral, which Scott
attended, followed in due course. "I am not aware," says Lockhart, "that
I ever saw Scott in such a state of dejection as he was when I
accompanied him and his friend Mr. Thomas Thomson from Edinburgh to
Queensferry in attendance upon Lord Kinedder's funeral. Yet that was one
of the noisiest days of the royal festival, and he had to plunge into
some scene of high gaiety the moment after we returned. As we halted in
Castle Street, Mr. Crabbe's mild, thoughtful face appeared at the
window, and Scott said, on leaving me, 'Now for what our old friend
there puts down as the crowning curse of his poor player in _The

"To hide in rant the heart-ache of the night."'"

There is pathos in the recollection that just ten years later when Scott
lay in his study at Abbotsford--the strength of that noble mind slowly
ebbing away--the very passage in _The Borough_ just quoted was one of
those he asked to have read to him. It is the graphic and touching
account in Letter XII. of the "Strolling Players," and as the
description of their struggles and their squalor fell afresh upon his
ear, his own excursions into matters theatrical recurred to him, and he
murmured smiling, "Ah! Terry won't like that! Terry won't like that!!"

The same year Crabbe was invited to spend Christmas at his old home,
Belvoir Castle, but felt unable to face the fatigue in wintry weather.
Meantime, among other occupations at home, he was finding time to write
verse copiously. Twenty-one manuscript volumes were left behind him at
his death. He seems to have said little about it at home, for his son
tells us that in the last year of his father's life he learned for the
first time that another volume of Tales was all but ready for the press.
"There are in my recess at home," he writes to George, "where they have
been long undisturbed, another series of such stories, in number and
quantity sufficient for another octavo volume; and as I suppose they are
much like the former in execution, and sufficiently different in events
and characters, they may hereafter, in peaceable times, be worth
something to you." A selection from those formed the _Posthumous Poems_,
first given to the world in the edition of 1834. The _Tales of the
Hall_, it may be supposed, had not quite justified the publisher's
expectations. John Murray had sought to revive interest in the whole
bulk of Crabbe's poetry, of which he now possessed the copyright, by
commissioning Richard Westall, R.A., to produce a series of
illustrations of the poems, thirty-one in number, engravings of which
were sold in sets at two guineas. The original drawings, in delicate
water-colour, in the present Mr. John Murray's possession, are
sufficiently grim. The engravings, lacking the relief of colour, are
even more so, and a rapid survey of the entire series amply shows how
largely in Crabbe's subjects bulks the element of human misery. Crabbe
was much flattered by this new tribute to his reputation, and dwells on
it in one of his letters to Mrs. Leadbeater.

A letter written from Mrs. Hoare's house at Hampstead in June 1825
presents an agreeable picture of his holiday enjoyments:--

"My time passes I cannot tell how pleasantly when the
pain leaves me. To-day I read one of my long stories to my
friends and Mrs. Joanna Baillie and her sister. It was a task;
but they encouraged me, and were, or seemed, gratified. I
rhyme at Hampstead with a great deal of facility, for nothing
interrupts me but kind calls to something pleasant; and
though all this makes parting painful, it will, I hope, make
me resolute to enter upon my duties diligently when I return.
I am too much indulged. Except a return of pain, and that
not severe, I have good health; and if my walks are not so
long, they are more frequent. I have seen many things and
many people; have seen Mr. Southey and Mr. Wordsworth;
have been some days with Mr. Rogers, and at last have been
at the Athenaeum, and purpose to visit the Royal Institution.
I have been to Richmond in a steamboat; seen also the
picture-galleries and some other exhibitions; but I passed one
Sunday in London with discontent, doing no duty myself, nor
listening to another; and I hope my uneasiness proceeded not
merely from breaking a habit. We had a dinner social and
pleasant, if the hours before it had been rightly spent; but I
would not willingly pass another Sunday in the same manner.
I have my home with my friends here (Mrs. Hoare's), and
exchange it with reluctance for the Hummums occasionally.
Such is the state of the garden here, in which I walk and read,
that, in a morning like this, the smell of the flowers is
fragrant beyond anything I ever perceived before. It is
what I can suppose may be in Persia or other oriental
countries--a Paradisiacal sweetness. I am told that I or my
verses, or perhaps both, have abuse in a boot of Mr. Colburn's
publishing, called _The Spirit of the Times_. I believe I felt
something indignant; but my engraved seal dropped out of
the socket and was lost, and I perceived this moved me much
more than the _Spirit_ of Mr. Hazlitt."

The reference is, of course, to Hazlitt's _Spirit of the Age_, then
lately published In reviewing the poetry of his day Hazlitt has a
chapter devoted to Campbell and Crabbe. The criticism on the latter is
little more than a greatly over-drawn picture of Crabbe's choice of
vice and misery for his subjects, and ignores entirely any other side of
his genius, ending with the remark that he would long be "a thorn in the
side of English poetry." Crabbe was wise in not attaching too much
importance to Hazlitt's attack.

Joanna Baillie and her sister Agnes, mentioned in the letter just cited,
saw much of Crabbe during his visits to Hampstead. A letter from Joanna
to the younger George speaks, as do all his friends, of his growing
kindliness and courtesy, but notes how often, in the matter of judging
his fellow-creatures, his head and his heart were in antagonism. While
at times Joanna was surprised and provoked by the charitable allowances
the old parson made for the unworthy, at other times she noted also that
she would hear him, when acts of others were the subject of praise,
suggesting, "in a low voice as to himself," the possible mixture of less
generous motives. The analytical method was clearly dominant in Crabbe
always, and not merely when he wrote his poetry, and is itself the clue
to much in his treatment of human nature.

Of Crabbe's simplicity and unworldliness in other matters Miss Baillie
furnishes an amusing instance. She writes:--

"While he was staying with Mrs. Hoare a few years since
I sent him one day the present of a blackcock, and a message
with it that Mr. Crabbe should look at the bird before it was
delivered to the cook, or something to that purpose. He
looked at the bird as desired, and then went to Mrs. Hoare in
some perplexity to ask whether he ought not to have it
stuffed, instead of eating it. She could not, in her own house,
tell him that it was simply intended for the larder, and he
was at the trouble and expense of having it stuffed, lest I
should think proper respect had not been put upon my

Altogether the picture presented in these last years of Crabbe's
personality is that of a pious and benevolent old man, endearing himself
to old and new friends, and with manners somewhat formal and overdone,
representing perhaps what in his humbler Aldeburgh days he had imagined
to be those of the upper circles, rather than what he had found them to
be in his prosperous later days in London.

In the autumn of 1831 he was visiting his faithful and devoted friends,
the Samuel Hoares, at their residence in Clifton. The house was
apparently in Princes Buildings, or in the Paragon, for the poet
describes accurately the scene that meets the eye from the back-windows
of those pleasant streets:--

"I have to thank my friends for one of the most beautiful
as well as comfortable rooms you could desire. I look from
my window upon the Avon and its wooded and rocky bounds--the
trees yet green. A vessel is sailing down, and here comes
a steamer (Irish, I suppose). I have in view the end of the Cliff
to the right, and on my left a wide and varied prospect over
Bristol, as far as the eye can reach, and at present the novelty
makes it very interesting. Clifton was always a favourite
place with me. I have more strength and more spirits since
my arrival at this place, and do not despair of giving a good
account of my excursion on my return."

It is noteworthy that Crabbe, who as a young man witnessed the Lord
George Gordon Riots of 1780, should, fifty years later, have been in
Bristol during the disgraceful Reform Bill Rising of 1831, which,
through the cowardice or connivance of the government of the day, went
on unchecked to work such disastrous results to life and property. On
October the 26th he writes to his son:--

"I have been with Mrs. Hoare at Bristol, where all appears
still. Should anything arise to alarm, you may rely upon our
care to avoid danger. Sir Charles Wetherell, to be sure, is
not popular, nor is the Bishop, but I trust that both will be
safe from violence--abuse they will not mind. The Bishop
seems a good-humoured man, and, except by the populace, is
greatly admired."

A few days later, however, he has to record that his views of the
situation were not to be fulfilled. He writes:--

"Bristol, I suppose, never in the most turbulent times of
old, witnessed such outrage. Queen's Square is but half
standing; half is a smoking ruin. As you may be apprehensive
for my safety, it is right to let you know that my friends
and I are undisturbed, except by our fears for the progress of
this mob-government, which is already somewhat broken into
parties, who wander stupidly about, or sleep wherever they
fall wearied with their work and their indulgence. The
military are now in considerable force, and many men are
sworn in as constables; many volunteers are met in Clifton
Churchyard, with white round one arm to distinguish them,
some with guns and the rest with bludgeons. The Mayor's
house has been destroyed; the Bishop's palace plundered,
but whether burned or not I do not know. This morning a
party of soldiers attacked the crowd in the Square; some lives
were lost, and the mob dispersed, whether to meet again is
doubtful. It has been a dreadful time, but we may reasonably
hope it is now over. People are frightened certainly, and no
wonder, for it is evident these poor wretches would plunder
to the extent of their power. Attempts were made to burn
the Cathedral, but failed. Many lives were lost. To attempt
any other subject now would be fruitless. We can think,
speak, and write only of our fears, hopes, or troubles. I
would have gone to Bristol to-day, but Mrs. Hoare was
unwilling that I should. She thought, and perhaps rightly,
that clergymen were marked objects. I therefore only went
half-way, and of course could learn but little. All now is
quiet and well."

In the former of these last quoted letters Crabbe refers sadly to the
pain of parting from his old Hampstead friends,--a parting which he felt
might well be the last. His anticipation was to be fulfilled. He left
Clifton in November, and went direct to his son George, at Pucklechurch.
He was able to preach twice for his son, who congratulated the old man
on the power of his voice, and other encouraging signs of vigour. "I
will venture a good sum, sir," he said "that you will be assisting me
ten years hence." "Ten weeks" was Crabbe's answer, and the implied
prediction was fulfilled almost to the day. After a fortnight at
Pucklechurch, Crabbe returned to his own home at Trowbridge. Early in
January he reported himself as more and more subject to drowsiness,
which he accepted as sign of increasing weakness. Later in the month he
was prostrated by a severe cold. Other complications supervened, and it
soon became apparent that he could not rally. After a few days of much
suffering, and pious resignation, he passed away on the third of
February 1832, with his two sons and his faithful nurse by his side. The
death of the rector was followed by every token of general affection and
esteem. The past asperities of religious and political controversy had
long ceased, and it was felt that the whole parish had lost a devout
teacher and a generous friend. All he had written in _The Borough_ and
elsewhere as to the eccentricities of certain forms of dissent was
forgotten, and all the Nonconformist ministers of the place and
neighbourhood followed him to the grave. A committee was speedily formed
to erect a monument over his grave in the chancel. The sculptor chosen
produced a group of a type then common. "A figure representing the dying
poet, casting his eyes on the sacred volume; two celestial beings, one
looking on as if awaiting his departure." Underneath was inscribed,
after the usual words telling his age, and period of his work at
Trowbridge, the following not exaggerated tribute:--

"Born in humble life, he made himself what he was.
By the force of his genius,
He broke through the obscurity of his birth
Yet never ceased to feel for the
Less fortunate;
Entering (as his work can testify) into
The sorrows and deprivations
Of the poorest of his parishioners;
And so discharging the duties of his station as a
Minister and a magistrate,
As to acquire the respect and esteem
Of all his neighbours.
As a writer, he is well described by a great
Contemporary, as
'Nature's sternest painter yet her best.'"

A fresh edition of Crabbe's complete works was at once arranged for by
John Murray, to be edited by George Crabbe, the son, who was also to
furnish the prefatory memoir. The edition appeared in 1834, in eight
volumes. An engraving by Finden from Phillips's portrait of the poet was
prefixed to the last volume, and each volume contained frontispieces and
vignettes from drawings by Clarkson Stanfield of scenery or buildings
connected with Crabbe's various residences in Suffolk and the Yale of
Belvoir. The volumes were ably edited; the editor's notes, together
with, quotations from Crabbe's earliest critics in the _Edinburgh_ and
_Quarterly Reviews_, were interesting and informing, and the
illustrations happily chosen. But it is not so easy to acquiesce in an
editorial decision on a more important matter. The eighth volume is
occupied by a selection from the Tales left in manuscript by Crabbe, to
which reference has already been made. The son, whose criticisms of his
father are generally sound, evidently had misgivings concerning these
from the first. In a prefatory note to this volume, the brothers
(writing as executors) confess these misgivings. They were startled on
reading the new poems in print at the manifest need of revision and
correction before they could be given to the world. They delicately hint
that the meaning is often obscure, and the "images left imperfect." This
criticism is absolutely just, but unfortunately some less well-judging
persons though "of the highest eminence in literature" had advised the
contrary. So "second thoughts prevailed," instead of those "third
thoughts which are a riper first," and the Tales, or a selection from
them, were printed. They have certainly not added to Crabbe's
reputation. There are occasional touches of his old and best pathos, as
in the story of Rachel; and in _The Ancient Mansion_ there are brief
descriptions of rural nature under the varying aspects of the seasons,
which exhibit all Crabbe's old and close observation of detail, such

"And then the wintry winds begin to blow,
Then fall the flaky stars of gathering snow,
When on the thorn the ripening sloe, yet blue,
Takes the bright varnish of the morning dew;
The aged moss grows brittle on the pale,
The dry boughs splinter in the windy gale."

But there is much in these last Tales that is trivial and tedious, and
it must be said that their publication has chiefly served to deter many
readers from the pursuit of what is best and most rewardful in the study
of Crabbe. To what extent the new edition served to revive any flagging
interest in the poet cannot perhaps be estimated. The edition must have
been large, for during many years past no book of the kind has been more
prominent in second-hand catalogues. As we have seen, the popularity of
Crabbe was already on the wane, and the appearance of the two volumes of
Tennyson, in 1842, must farther have served to divert attention from
poetry so widely different. Workmanship so casual and imperfect as
Crabbe's had now to contend with such consummate art and diction as that
of _The Miller's Daughter_ and _Dora_.

As has been more than once remarked, these stories belong to the
category of fiction as well as of poetry, and the duration of their
power to attract was affected not only by the appearance of greater
poets, but of prose story-tellers with equal knowledge of the human
heart, and with other gifts to which Crabbe could make no claim. His
knowledge and observation of human nature were not perhaps inferior to
Jane Austen's, but he could never have matched her in prose fiction. He
certainly was not deficient in humour, but it was not his dominant gift,
as it was hers. Again, his knowledge of the life and social ways of the
class to which he nominally belonged, does not seem to have been
intimate. Crabbe could not have written prose fiction with any
approximation to the manners of real life. His characters would have
certainly _thou'ed_ and _thee'ed_ one another as they do in his verse,
and a clergyman would always have been addressed as "Reverend Sir!"

Surely, it will be argued, all this is sufficient to account for the
entire disappearance of Crabbe from the list of poets whom every
educated lover of poetry is expected to appreciate. Yet the fact
remains, as FitzGerald quotes from Sir Leslie Stephen, that "with all
its short-and long-comings, Crabbe's better work leaves its mark on the
reader's mind and memory as only the work of genius can," and almost all
English poets and critics of mark, during his time and after it, have
agreed in recognising the same fact. We know what was thought of him by
Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Byron, and Tennyson. Critics differing as
widely in other matters as Macaulay, John Henry Newman, Mr. Swinburne,
and Dr. Gore, have found in Crabbe an insight into the springs of
character, and a tragic power of dealing with them, of a rare kind. No
doubt Crabbe demands something of his readers. He asks from them a
corresponding interest in human nature. He asks for a kindred habit of
observation, and a kindred patience. The present generation of
poetry-readers cares mainly for style. While this remains the habit of
the town, Crabbe will have to wait for any popular revival. But he is
not so dead as the world thinks. He has his constant readers still, but
they talk little of their poet. "They give Heaven thanks, and make no
boast of it." These are they to whom the "unruly wills and affections"
of their kind are eternally interesting, even when studied through the
medium of a uniform and monotonous metre.

A Trowbridge friend wrote to Crabbe's son, after his father's death,
"When I called on him, soon after his arrival, I remarked that his house
and garden were pleasant and secluded: he replied that he preferred
walking in the streets, and observing the faces of the passers-by, to
the finest natural scenes." There is a poignant line in _Maud_, where
the distracted lover dwells on "the faces that one meets." It was not by
the "sweet records, promises as sweet," that these two observers of life
were impressed, but rather by vicious records and hopeless outlooks. It
was such countenances that Crabbe looked for, and speculated on, for in
such, he found food for that pity and terror he most loved to awaken.
The starting-point of Crabbe's desire to portray village-life truly was
a certain indignation he felt at the then still-surviving conventions of
the Pastoral Poets. We have lately watched, in the literature of our own
day, a somewhat similar reaction against sentimental pictures of
country-life. The feebler members of a family of novelists, which some
one wittily labelled as the "kail-yard school," so irritated a young
Scottish journalist, the late Mr. George Douglas, that he resolved to
provide what he conceived might be a useful corrective for the public
mind. To counteract the half-truths of the opposite school, he wrote a
tale of singular power and promise, _The House with the Green
Shutters_. Like all reactions, it erred in the violence of its
colouring. If intended as a true picture of the normal state of a small
Scottish provincial town and its society, it may have been as false in
its own direction as the kail-yarders had been in theirs. But for Mr.
Douglas's untimely death--a real loss to literature--he would doubtless
have shown in future fictions that the pendulum had ceased to swing, and
would have given us more artistic, because completer, pictures of human
life. With Crabbe the force of his primal bias never ceased to act until
his life's end. The leaven of protest against the sentimentalists never
quite worked itself out in him, although, no doubt, in some of the later
tales and portrayals of character, the sun was oftener allowed to shine
out from behind the clouds

We must not forget this when we are inclined to accept without question
Byron's famous eulogium. A poet is not the "best" painter of Nature,
merely because he chooses one aspect of human character and human
fortunes rather than another. If he must not conceal the sterner side,
equally is he bound to remember the sunnier and more serene. If a poet
is to deal justly with the life of the rich or poor, he must take into
fullest account, and give equal prominence to, the homes where happiness
abides. He must remember that though there is a skeleton in every
cupboard, it must not be dragged out for a purpose, nor treated as if it
were the sole inhabitant. He must deal with the happinesses of life and
not only with its miseries; with its harmonies and not only its
dislocations. He must remember the thousand homes in which is to be
found the quiet and faithful discharge of duty, inspired at once and
illumined by the family affections, and not forget that in such as these
the strength of a country lies. Crabbe is often spoken of as our first
great realist in the poetry and fiction of the last century, and the
word is often used as if it meant chiefly plain-speaking as to the
sordid aspects of life. But he is the truest realist who does not
suppress any side of that which may be seen, if looked for. Although
Murillo threw into fullest relief the grimy feet of his beggar-boys
which so offended Mr. Ruskin, still what eternally attracts us to his
canvas is not the soiled feet but the "sweet boy-faces" that "laugh amid
the Seville grapes." It was because Crabbe too often laid greater stress
on the ugliness than on the beauty of things, that he fails to that
extent to be the full and adequate painter and poet of humble life.

He was a dispeller of many illusions. He could not give us the joy that
Goldsmith, Cowper, and William Barnes have given, but he discharged a
function no less valuable than theirs, and with an individuality that
has given him a high and enduring place in the poetry of the nineteenth

There can be no question that within the last twenty or thirty years
there has been a marked revival of interest in the poetry of Crabbe. To
the influence of Edward FitzGerald's fascinating personality this
revival may be partly, but is not wholly, due. It may be of the nature
of a reaction against certain canons of taste too long blindly followed.
It may be that, like the Queen in _Hamlet_, we are beginning to crave
for "more matter and less art"; or that, like the Lady of Shalott, we
are growing "half-sick of shadows," and long for a closer touch with
the real joys and sorrows of common people. Whatever be the cause, there
can be no reason to regret the fact, or to doubt that in these days of
"art for art's sake," the influence of Crabbe's verse is at once of a
bracing and a sobering kind.



_Aaron the Gipsy_
_Adventures of Richard, The_
_Allegro_ (Milton)
Allington (Lincolnshire)
_Ancient Mansion, The_
_Annals of the Parish, The_ (Galt)
_Annual Register, The_
Austen, Jane
Autobiography, Crabbe's


Baillie, Agnes
Barnes, William
Barrie, J.M.
Barton, Bernard,
_Basket-Woman, The_ (Edgeworth)
Belvoir Castle
Biography, Crabbe's
_Borough, The_
Bowles, William Lisle
_Boys at School_
Bunbury, Sir Henry
Butler, Joseph

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