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Poems. By the Reverend GEORGE CRABBE. 8vo. pp. 260. London, 1807.*
WE receive the proofs of Mr. Crabbe's | usurp the attention which he was sure of poetical existence, which are contained in comm mmanding, and allowed himself to be this volume, with the same sort of feeling nearly forgotten by a public, which reckons that would be excited by tidings of an ancient upon being reminded of all the claims which friend, whom we no longer expected to hear the living have on its favour. His former of in this world. We rejoice in his resurrec-publications, though of distinguished merit, were perhaps too small in volume to remain long the objects of general attention, and seem, by some accident, to have been jostled aside in the crowd of more clamorous competitors.
tion, both for his sake and for our own: But we feel also a certain movement of self-condemnation, for having been remiss in our inquiries after him, and somewhat too negligent of the honours which ought, at any rate, to have been paid to his memory.
Yet, though the name of Crabbe has not hitherto been very common in the mouths of
It is now, we are afraid, upwards of twenty years since we were first struck with the vigour poetical critics, we believe there are few our, originality, and truth of description of real lovers of poetry to whom some of his "The Village" and since, we regretted that sentiments and descriptions are not secretly an author, who could write so well, should familiar. There is a truth and a force in many have written so little. From that time to the of his delineations of rustic life, which is cal present, we have heard little of Mr. Crabbe; culated to sink deep into the memory; and, and fear that he has been in a great measure being confirmed by daily observation, they lost sight of by the public, as well as by us. are recalled upon innumerable occasionsWith a singular, and scarcely pardonable in- when the ideal pictures of more fanciful audifference to fame, he has remained, during thors have lost all their interest. For ourthis long interval, in patient or indolent re- selves at least, we profess to be indebted to pose; and, without making a single move- Mr. Crabbe for many of these strong impres ment to maintain or advance the reputation sions; and have known more than one of our he had acquired, has permitted others to unpoetical acquaintances, who declared they could never pass by a parish work house without thinking of the description of it they had read at school in the Poetical Extracts. The volume before us will renew, we trust, and extend many such impressions. It contains all the former productions of the author, with about double their bulk of new matter; most of it in the same taste and manner of composition with the former; and some of a kind, of which we have had no previous example in this author. The whole, however, is of no ordinary merit, and will be found, we have little doubt, a sufficient warrant for Mr. Crabbe to take his place as one of the most original, nervous, and pathetic poets of the present century.
* I have given a larger space to Crabbe in this republication than to any of his contemporary poets; not merely because I think more highly of him than of most of them, but also because I fancy that he has had less justice done him. The nature of his subjects was not such as to attract either imitators or admirers, from among the ambitious or fanciful lovers of poetry; or, consequently, to set him at the head of a School, or let him surround him
self with the zealots of a Sect: And it must also be admitted, that his claims to distinction depend fully as much on his great powers of observation, his skill in touching the deeper sympathies of our nature, and his power of inculcating, by their means, the most impressive lessons of humanity, as on any fine play of fancy, or grace and beauty in his delineations. I have great faith, however, in the intrinsic worth and ultimate success of those more substantial attributes; and have, accordingly, the strongest impression that the citations I have here given from Crabbe will strike more, and sink deeper into the minds of readers to whom they are new (or by whom they may have been partially forgot ten), than any I have been able to present from other writers. It probably is idle enough (as well
His characteristic, certainly, is force, and truth of description, joined for the most part. to great selection and condensation of expres which we meet with in Cowper, and that sort sion; that kind of strength and originality of diction and versification which we admire
tion like this will afford many opportunities of testing the truth of this prediction. But, as the experiment is to be made, there can be no harm in mentioning this as one of its objects.
It is but candid, however, after all, to add, that my concern for Mr. Crabbe's reputation would scarcely have led me to devote near one hundred pages to the estimate of his poetical merits, had I not set some value on the speculations as to the elements of poetical excellence in general, and its moral bearings and affinities-for the introduction of which this estimate seemed to present an occasion, or apology.
as a little presumptuous) to suppose that a publica-in "The Deserted Village" of Goldsmith, or "The Vanity of Human Wishes" of Johnson. If he can be said to have imitated the manner of any author, it is Goldsmith, indeed, who has been the object of his imitation; and yet his general train of thinking, and his views of society, are so extremely opposite, that, when "The Village" was first published, it was commonly considered as an antidote or an answer to the more captivating representations of "The Deserted Village." Compared with this celebrated author, he will be found,
we think, to have more vigour and less delicacy; and while he must be admitted to be inferior in the fine finish and uniform beauty of his composition, we cannot help considering him as superior, both in the variety and the truth of his pictures. Instead of that uniform tint of pensive tenderness which overspreads the whole poetry of Goldsmith, we find in Mr. Crabbe many gleams of gaiety and humour. Though his habitual views of life are more gloomy than those of his rival, his poetical temperament seems far more cheerful; and when the occasions of sorrow and rebuke are gone by, he can collect himself for sarcastic pleasantry, or unbend in innocent playfulness. His diction, though generally pure and powerful, is sometimes harsh, and sometimes quaint; and he has occasionally admitted a couplet or two in a state so unfinished, as to give a character of inelegance to the passages in which they occur. With a taste less disciplined and less fastidious than that of Goldsmith, he has, in our apprehension, a keener eye for observation, and a readier hand for the delineation of what he has observed. There is less poetical keeping in his whole performance; but the groups of which it consists are conceived, we think, with equal genius, and drawn with greater spirit as well as far greater fidelity.
men of the new school, on the other hand, scarcely ever condescend to take their subjects from any description of persons at all known to the common inhabitants of the world; but invent for themselves certain whimsical and unheard-of beings, to whom they impute some fantastical combination of feelings, and then labour to excite our sympathy for them, either by placing them in incredible situations, or by some strained and exaggerated moralisation of a vague and tragical description. Mr. Crabbe, in short, shows us something which we have all seen, or may see, in real life; and draws from it such feelings and such reflections as every human being must acknowledge that it is calculated to excite. He delights us by the truth, and vivid and picturesque beauty of his representations, and by the force and pathos of the sensations with which we feel that they are connected. Mr. Wordsworth and his associates, on the other hand, introduce us to beings whose existence was not previously suspected by the acutest observers of nature; and excite an interest for them-where they do excite any interest-more by an eloquent and refined analysis of their own capricious feelings, than by any obvious or intelligible ground of sympathy in their situation.
Those who are acquainted with the Lyrical Ballads, or the more recent publications of Mr. Wordsworth, will scarcely deny the justice of this representation; but in order to vindicate it to such as do not enjoy that advantage, we must beg leave to make a few hasty references to the former, and by far the least exceptionable of those productions.
A village schoolmaster, for instance, is a pretty common poetical character. Goldsmith has drawn him inimitably; so has Shenstone, with the slight change of sex; and Mr. Crabbe, in two passages, has followed their footsteps. Now, Mr. Wordsworth has a village schoolmaster also-a personage who makes no small figure in three or four of his poems. But by what traits is this worthy old gentleman delineated by the new poct? No pedantry-no innocent vanity of learning-no mixture of indulgence with the pride of power, and of poverty with the consciousness of rare acquirements. Every feature which belongs to the situation, or marks the character in common apprehension, is scornfully discarded by Mr. Wordsworth; who represents his greyhaired rustic pedagogue as a sort of half crazy, sentimental person, overrun with fine feelings, constitutional merriment, and a most humorous melancholy. Here are the two stanzas in which this consistent and intelligible character is pourtrayed. The diction is at least as new as the conception.
It is not quite fair, perhaps, thus to draw a detailed parallel between a living poet, and one whose reputation has been sealed by death, and by the immutable sentence of a surviving generation. Yet there are so few of his contemporaries to whom Mr. Crabbe bears any resemblance, that we can scarcely explain our opinion of his merit, without comparing him to some of his predecessors. There is one set of writers, indeed, from whose works those of Mr. Crabbe might receive all that elucidation which results from contrast, and from an entire opposition in all points of taste and opinion. We allude now to the Wordsworths, and the Southeys, and Coleridges, and all that ambitious fraternity, that, with good intentions and extraordinary talents, are labouring to bring back our poetry to the fantastical oddity and puling childishness of Withers, Quarles, or Marvel. These gentlemen write a great deal about rustic life, as well as Mr. Crabbe; and they even agree with him in dwelling much on its discomforts; but nothing can be more opposite than the views they take of the subject, or the manner in which they execute their representations of them.
Mr. Crabbe exhibits the common people of England pretty much as they are, and as they must appear to every one who will take the trouble of examining into their condition; at the same time that he renders his sketches in a very high degree interesting and beautiful
by selecting what is most fit for description-by grouping them into such forms as must catch the attention or awake the memory and by scattering over the whole such traits of moral sensibility, of sarcasm, and of deep reflection, as every one must feel to be natural, and own to be powerful. The gentle
"The sighs which Matthew heav'd were sighs
Of one tir'd out with fun and madness; The tears which came to Matthew's eyes Were tears of light-the oil of gladness. "Yet sometimes, when the secret cup
Of still and serious thought went round, He seem'd as if he drank it up,
He felt with spirit so profound. Thou soul of God's best earthly mould," &c.
A frail damsel again is a character common sary for his readers to keep in view, if they enough in all poems; and one upon which would wish to understand the beauty or promany fine and pathetic lines have been ex-priety of his delineations.
pended. Mr. Wordsworth has written more than three hundred on the subject: but, instead of new images of tenderness, or delicate representation of intelligible feelings, he has contrived to tell us nothing whatever of the unfortunate fair one, but that her name is Martha Ray; and that she goes up to the top of a hill, in a red cloak, and cries "O misery!" All the rest of the poem is filled with a description of an old thorn and a pond, and of the silly stories which the neighbouring old women told about them.
The sports of childhood, and the untimely death of promising youth, is also a common topic of poetry. Mr. Wordsworth has made some blank verse about it; but, instead of the delightful and picturesque sketches with which so many authors of moderate talents have presented us on this inviting subject, all that he is pleased to communicate of his rustic child, is, that he used to amuse himself with shouting to the owls, and hearing them answer. To make amends for this brevity, the process of his mimicry is most accurately described.
"" With fingers interwoven, both hands
A pathetic tale of guilt or superstition may be told, we are apt to fancy, by the poet himself, in his general character of poet, with full as much effect as by any other person. An old nurse, at any rate, or a monk or parish clerk, is always at hand to give grace to such a narration. None of these, however, would satisfy Mr. Wordsworth. He has written a long poem of this sort, in which he thinks it indispensably necessary to apprise the reader, that he has endeavoured to represent the language and sentiments of a particular character of which character, he adds, the reader will have a general notion, if he has ever known a man, a captain of a small trading vessel, for example, who being past the middle age of life, has retired upon an annuity, or small independent income, to some village or country, of which he was not a native, or in which he had not been accustomed to live!"
Now, we must be permitted to doubt. whether, among all the readers of Mr. Wordsworth (few or many), there is a single indi vidual who has had the happiness of knowing a person of this very peculiar description; or who is capable of forming any sort of con jecture of the particular disposition and turn of thinking which such a combination of attributes would be apt to produce. To us, we will confess, the annonce appears as ludicrous and absurd as it would be in the author of an ode or an epic to say, "Of this piece the reader will necessarily form judgment, unless he is apprised, that it was written by a pale man in a green coat-sitting cross-legged on an oaken stool-with a scratch on his nose, and a spelling dictionary on the table."*
This is all we hear of him; and for the sake of this one accomplishment, we are told, that the author has frequently stood mute, and gazed on his grave for half an hour together!
Love, and the fantasies of lovers, have afforded an ample theme to poets of all ages. Mr. Wordsworth, however, has thought fit to compose a piece, illustrating this copious subject by one single thought. A lover trots away to see his mistress one fine evening, gazing all the way on the moon; when he comes to her door,
"O mercy! to myself I cried,
And there the poem ends!
Now, we leave it to any reader of common candour and discernment to say, whether these representations of character and sentiment are drawn from that eternal and universal standard of truth and nature, which every one is knowing enough to recognise, and no one great enough to depart from with impunity; or whether they are not formed, as we have ventured to allege, upon certain fantastic and affected peculiarities in the mind or fancy of the author, into which it is most improbable that many of his readers will enter, and which cannot, in some cases, be comprehended without much effort and explanation. Instead of multiplying instances of these wide and wilful aberrations from ordinary nature, it may be more satisfactory to produce the author's own admission of the narrowness of the plan upon which he writes, and of the very extraordinary circumstances which he himself sometimes thinks it neces
* Some of our readers may have a curiosity to know in what manner this old annuitant captain does actually express himself in the village of his adoption. For their gratification, we annex the two first stanzas of his story; in which, with all the attention we have been able to bestow, we have been utterly unable to detect any traits that can be supposed to characterise either a seaman, an annuitant, or a stranger in a country town. It is a style, on the contrary, which we should ascribe, without hesitation, to a certain poetical fraternity in the West of England; and which, we verily believe, never was, and never will be, used by any one out of that fraternity.
"There is a thorn-it looks so old,
In truth you'd find it hard to say,
It stands erect; this aged thorn!
A wretched thing forlorn,
"Like rock or stone, it is o'ergrown
With lichens;-to the very top;
Up from the earth these mosses creep,
From these childish and absurd affectations, we turn with pleasure to the manly sense and correct picturing of Mr. Crabbe; and, after being dazzled and made giddy with the elaborate raptures and obscure originalities of these new artists, it is refreshing to meet again with the spirit and nature of our old masters, in the nervous pages of the author now before us.
The poem that stands first the volume, is that to which we have already alluded as having been first given to the public upwards of twenty years ago. It is so old, and has of late been so scarce, that it is probably new to many of our readers. We shall venture, therefore, to give a few extracts from it as a specimen of Mr. Crabbe's original style of composition. We have already hinted at the description of the Parish Workhouse, and insert it as an example of no common poetry :—
"Theirs is yon house that holds the parish poor,
"Here, too, the sick their final doom receive,
The consequential apothecary, who gives an impatient attendance in these abodes of misery, is admirably described; but we pass to the last scene :
"Now to the church behold the mourners come,
So close, you'd say that they were bent,
And all had join'd in one endeavour,
Silent and sad, and gazing, hand in hand;
villagers of real life have no resemblance to
Contend with weakness, weariness, and shame;
"Yet grant them health, 'tis not for us to tell,
We shall only give one other extract from this poem; and we select the following fine description of that peculiar sort of barrenness inhabited shores of the Channel:which prevails along the sandy and thinly
Lo! where the heath, with with ring brake grown
The next poem, and the longest in the volume, is now presented for the first time to
And this, it seems, is Nature, and Pathos, and the public. It is dedicated, like the former, Poetry! to the delineation of rural life and characters,
and is entitled, "The Village Register;" and, upon a very simple but singular plan, is divided into three parts, viz. Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials. After an introductory and general view of village manners, the reverend author proceeds to present his readers with an account of all the remarkable baptisms, marriages, and funerals, that appear on his register for the preceding year; with a sketch of the character and behaviour of the respective parties, and such reflections and exhortations as are suggested by the subject. The poem consists, therefore, of a series of portraits taken from the middling and lower ranks of rustic life, and delineated on occasions at once more common and more interesting, than any other that could well be imagined. They are selected, we think, with great judgment, and drawn with inimitable accuracy and strength of colouring. They are finished with much more minuteness and detail, indeed, than the more general pictures in "The Village ;" and, on this account, may appear occasionally deficient in comprehension, or in dignity. They are, no doubt, executed in some instances with too much of a Chinese accuracy; and enter into details which many readers may pronounce tedious and unnecessary. Yet there is a justness and force in the representation which is entitled to something more than indulgence; and though several of the groups are composed of low and disagreeable subjects, still, we think that some allowance is to be made for the author's plan of giving a full and exact view of village life, which could not possibly be accomplished without including those baser varieties. He aims at an important moral effect by this exhibition; and must not be defrauded either of that, or of the praise which is due to the coarser efforts of his pen, out of deference to the sickly delicacy of his more fastidious readers. We admit, however, that there is more carelessness, as well as more quaintness in this poem than in the other; and that he has now and then apparently heaped up circumstances rather to gratify his own taste for detail and accumulation, than to give any additional effect to his description. With this general observation, we beg the reader's attention to the following
abstract and citations.
The poem begins with a general view, first of the industrious and contented villager, and then of the profligate and disorderly. The first compartment is not so striking as the last. Mr. Crabbe, it seems, has a set of smugglers among his flock, who inhabit what is called the Street in his village. There is nothing comparable to the following description, but some of the prose sketches of Mandeville:
"Here, in cabal, a disputatious crew
"See! on the floor, what frowzy patches rest! What nauseous fragments on yon fractur'd chest! And round these posts that serve this bed for feet; What downy-dust beneath yon window-seat! This bed where all those tatter'd garments lie, Worn by each sex, and now perforce thrown by. See! as we gaze, an infant lifts its head, Left by neglect, and burrow'd in that bed; The mother-gossip has the love supprest, An infant's cry once waken'd in her breast," &c. But packs of cards-made up of sundry packs; "Here are no wheels for either wool or flax, Here are no books, but ballads on the wall, Are some abusive, and indecent all; Pistols are here, unpair'd; with nets and hooks, Of every kind, for rivers, ponds, and brooks; An ample flask that nightly rovers fill, A box of tools with wires of various size, With recent poison from the Dutchman's still; Frocks, wigs, and hats, for night or day disguise, And bludgeons stout to gain or guard a prize.
Here his poor bird, th' inhuman cocker brings Arms his hard heel, and clips his golden wings; And shouts and curses as the battle bleeds: With spicy food th' impatient spirit feeds, Struck through the brain, depriv'd of both his eyes. The vanquish'd bird must combat till he dies! Must faintly peck at his victorious foe, And reel and stagger at each feeble blow; When fall'n, the savage grasps his dabbled plumes. His blood-stain'd arms, for other deaths assumes; And damns the craven-fowl, that lost his stake, And only bled and perish'd for his sake!"
pp. 40-44. Mr. Crabbe now opens his chronicle; and the first babe that appears on the list is a natural child of the miller's daughter. This damsel fell in love with a sailor; but her father refused his consent, and no priest would unite them without it. The poor girl yielded to her passion; and her lover went to sea, to seek a portion for his bride:—
The varying look, the wand'ring appetite;
Day after day were past in grief and pain, Her boy was born :-No lads nor lasses came Week after week, nor came the youth again; To grace the rite or give the child a name; Nor grave conceited nurse, of office proud, Bore the young Christian, roaring through the In a small chamber was my office done, [crowd; Where blinks, through paper'd panes, the setting Where noisy sparrows, perch'd on penthouse near, Chirp tuneless joy, and mock the frequent tear.”Throughout the lanes, she glides at evening's There softly lulls her infant to repose; [close. Then sits and gazes, but with viewless look, As gilds the moon the rimpling of the brook; She hears their murmurs as the waters flow; Then sings her vespers, but in voice so low, And she too murmurs, and begins to find The solemn wand'rings of a wounded mind! pp. 47-49.