ページの画像
PDF
ePub

"Next at our altar stood a luckless pair,
Brought by strong passions--and a warrant--there; brutal husband :-
By long rent cloak, hung loosely, strove the bride,
From ev'ry eye, what all perceiv'd to hide;
While the boy-bridegroom, shuffling in his pace,
Now hid awhile, and then expos'd his face;
As shame alternately with anger strove
The brain, confus'd with muddy ale, to move!
In haste and stamm'ring he perform'd his part,
And look'd the rage that rankled in his heart.
Low spake the lass, and lisp'd and minc'd the
while;

Look'd on the lad, and faintly try'd to smile;
With soft'nened speech and humbled tone she
To stir the embers of departed love; [strove
While he a tyrant, frowning walk'd before,
Felt the poor purse, and sought the public door;
She sadly following in submission went,
And saw the final shilling foully spent!
Then to her father's hut the pair withdrew,
And bade to love and comfort long adieu!"

pp. 74, 75 The next bridal is that of Phoebe Dawson, the most innocent and beautiful of all the village maidens. We give the following pretty description of her courtship:

Now, through the lane, up hill, and cross the (Seen but by few, and blushing to be seen-- [green, Dejected, thoughtful, anxious and afraid,) Led by the lover, walk'd the silent maid: Slow through the meadows rov'd they, many a mile, Toy'd by each bank, and trifled at each stile; Where, as he painted every blissful view, And highly colour'd what he strongly drew, The pensive damsel, prone to tender fears, Dimm'd the fair prospect with prophetic tears." pp. 76, 77.

[ocr errors]

This is the taking side of the picture: At the end of two years, here is the reverse. Nothing can be more touching, we think, than the quiet suffering and solitary hysterics of this ill-fated young woman:

"Lo! now with red rent cloak and bonnet black,
And torn green gown, loose hanging at her back,
One who an infant in her arms sustains,
And seems, with patience, striving with her pains;
Pinch'd are her looks, as one who pines for bread,
Whose cares are growing, and whose hopes are fled
Pale her parch'd lips, her heavy eyes sunk low,
And tears unnotic'd from their channels flow;
Serene her manner, till some sudden pain
Frets the meek soul, and then she's calm again!
Her broken pitcher to the pool she takes,
And every step with cautious terror makes;
For not alone that infant in her arms,
But nearer cause, maternal fear, alarms!
With water burden'd, then she picks her way,
Slowly and cautious, in the clinging clay;
Till in mid-green she trusts a place unsound,
And deeply plunges in th' adhesive ground;
From whence her slender foot with pain she
takes," &c.

The ardent lover, it seems, turned out a

"And now her path, but not her peace, she gains,
Safe from her task, but shiv'ring with her pains;
Her home she reaches, open leaves the door,
And placing first her infant on the floor,
She bares her bosom to the wind, and sits,
And sobbing struggles with the rising fits!
In vain!-they come-she feels th' inflaming grief,
That shuts the swelling bosom from relief;
That speaks in feeble cries a soul distrest,
Or the sad laugh that cannot be represt;
The neighbour-matron leaves her wheel, and flies
With all the aid her poverty supplies;
Unfee'd, the calls of nature she obeys,
Nor led by profit, nor allur'd by praise;
And waiting long, till these contentions cease,
She speaks of comfort, and departs in peace."
pp. 77, 78.

""

[ocr errors]

66

If present, railing, till he saw her pain'd; If absent, spending what their labours gain'd: Till that fair form in want and sickness pin'd. And hope and comfort fled that gentle mind."

p. 79.

It may add to the interest which some readers will take in this simple story, to be told, that it was the last piece of poetry that was read to Mr. Fox during his fatal illness; and that he examined and made some flattering remarks on the manuscript of it a few days before his death.

We are obliged to pass over the rest of the Marriages, though some of them are extremely characteristic and beautiful, and to proceed to the Burials. Here we have a great variety of portraits, the old drunken innkeeperthe bustling farmer's wife-the infant-and description of her deserted mansion is striknext the lady of the manor. The following ing, and in the good old taste of Pope and Dryden :

"Forsaken stood the hall,

Worms ate the floors, the tap'stry fled the wall;
No fire the kitchen's cheerless grate display'd;
No cheerful light the long-clos'd sash convey'd;
The crawling worm that turns a summer fly,
Here spun his shroud and laid him up to die
The winter-death;-upon the bed of state,
The bat, shrill-shrieking, woo'd his flick'ring mate:
To empty rooms, the curious came no more,
And surly beggars curs'd the ever-bolted door.
From empty cellars, turn'd the angry poor,
To one small room the steward found his way,
Where tenants follow'd, to complain and pay."
pp. 104, 105.

17

The old maid follows next to the shades of mortality. The description of her house, furniture, and person, is admirable, and affords a fine specimen of Mr. Crabbe's most minute finishing; but it is too long for extracting. We rather present our readers with a part of the character of Isaac Ashford :

"Next to these ladies, but in nought allied,
A noble peasant, Isaac Ashford, died.
Noble he was-contemning all things mean,
His truth unquestion'd, and his soul serene:
Of no man's presence Isaac felt afraid :
At no man's question Isaac look'd dismay'd:
Shame knew him not, he dreaded no disgrace," &c.
"Were others joyful, he look'd smiling on,
And gave allowance where he needed none;
Yet far was he from stoic-pride remov'd;
He felt, with many, and he warmly lov'd:
I mark'd his action, when his infant died,
And an old neighbour for offence was tried;
The still tears, stealing down that furrow'd cheek,
Spoke pity, plainer than the tongue can speak," &c.
pp. 111, 112.

The rest of the character is drawn with equal spirit; but we can only make room for the author's final commemoration of him.

"I feel his absence in the hours of prayer,
And view his seat, and sigh for Isaac there!
I see, no more, those white locks thinly spread,
Round the bald polish of that honour'd head;
No more that awful glance on playful wight,
Compell'd to kneel and tremble at the sight;
To fold his fingers all in dread the while,
Till Mr. Ashford soften'd to a smile!

No more that meek, that suppliant look in prayer,
Nor that pure faith, that gave it force-are there :-
But he is blest; and I lament no more,
A wise good man contented to be poor."-p. 114.

We then bury the village midwife, superseded in her old age by a volatile doctor; then a surly rustic misanthrope; and last of all, the reverend author's ancient sexton, whose chronicle of his various pastors is given rather at too great length. The poem ends with a simple recapitulation.

We think this the most important of the new pieces in the volume; and have extended our account of it so much, that we can afford to say but little of the others. "The Library" and "The Newspaper" are republications. They are written with a good deal of terseness, sarcasm, and beauty; but the subjects are not very interesting, and they will rather be approved, we think, than admired or delighted in. We are not much taken either with "The Birth of Flattery." With many nervous lines and ingenious allusions, it has something of the languor which seems inseparable from an allegory which exceeds the length of an epigram.

"Sir Eustace Grey" is quite unlike any of the preceding compositions. It is written in a sort of lyric measure; and is intended to represent the perturbed fancies of the most terrible insanity settling by degrees into a sort of devotional enthusiasm. The opening stanza, spoken by a visiter in the madhouse, is very striking.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Shone softly-solemn and serene, And all that time I gaz'd away,

The setting sun's sad rays were seen.'

"1

p. 226. Gipsy Convict, is another experiment of Mr. "The Hall of Justice," or the story of the Crabbe's. It is very nervous-very shocking and very powerfully represented. The woman is accused of stealing, and tells her story in impetuous and lofty language. "My crime! this sick'ning child to feed, I seiz'd the food your witness saw; I knew your laws forbade the deed, But yielded to a stronger law!". "But I have griefs of other kind,

Troubles and sorrows more severe;
Give me to ease my tortur'd mind,

Lend to my woes a patient ear;
And let me if I may not find

A friend to help-find one to hear. "My mother dead, my father lost,

I wander'd with a vagrant crew;
A common care, a common cost,

[ocr errors]

Their sorrows and their sins I knew; With them on want and error fore'd,

Like them, I base and guilty grew! "So through the land I wand'ring went,

And little found of grief or joy; But lost my bosom's sweet content, When first I lov'd the gypsy boy. "A sturdy youth he was and tall,

His looks would all his soul declare,
His piercing eyes were deep and small,
And strongly curl'd his raven hair.
"Yes, Aaron had each manly charm,

All in the May of youthful pride;
He scarcely fear'd his father's arm,

And every other arm defied.Oft when they grew in anger warm, (Whom will not love and power divide ?) 1 rose, their wrathful souls to calm, Not yet in sinful combat tried."

pp. 240-242.

The father felon falls in love with the betrothed of his son, whom he despatches on some distant errand. The consummation of his horrid passion is told in these powerful stanzas:—

The night was dark, the lanes were deep,
And one by one they took their way;
He bade me lay me down and sleep!
I only wept, and wish'd for day.

Accursed be the love he bore

Accursed was the force he us'd-
So let him of his God implore

For mercy!-and be so refus'd!"—p. 243. It is painful to follow the story out. The son returns, and privately murders his father; and then marries his widow! The profligate barbarity of the life led by those outcasts is forcibly expressed by the simple narrative of the lines that follow:

[blocks in formation]

reading; but it is written with very unusual power of language, and shows Mr. Crabbe to have great mastery over the tragic passions of pity and horror. The volume closes with some verses of no great value in praise of Women. We part with regret from Mr. Crabbe; but we hope to meet with him again. If his muse, to be sure, is prolific only once in twenty-four years, we can scarcely expect to live long

(April, 1810.)

The Borough: a Poem, in Twenty-four Letters. By the Rev. GEORGE CRABBE, LL. B. 8vo. pp. 344. London: 1810.

[blocks in formation]

enough to pass judgment on her future progeny: But we trust, that a larger portion of public favour than has hitherto been dealt to him will encourage him to greater efforts; and that he will soon appear again among the worthy supporters of the old poetical establishment, and come in time to surpass the revolutionists in fast firing, as well as in weight of metal.

And here we shall very speedily discover, that Mr. Crabbe is distinguished from all other poets, both by the choice of his subjects, and by his manner of treating them. All his persons are taken from the lower ranks of life; and all his scenery from the most ordinary and familiar objects of nature or art. His characters and incidents, too, are as common as the elements out of which they are compounded are humble; and not only has he nothing prodigious or astonishing in any of his representations, but he has not even attempted to impart any of the ordinary colours of poetry to those vulgar materials. He has no moralising swains or sentimental tradesmen; and scarcely ever seeks to charm us by the artless graces or lowly virtues of his personages. On the contrary, he has represented his villagers and humble burghers as altogether as dissipated, and more dishonest and discontented, than the profligates of higher life; and, instead of conducting us through blooming groves and pastoral meadows, has led us along filthy lanes and crowded wharfs, to hospitals, alms-houses, and gin-shops. In some of these delineations, he may be considered as the Satirist of low life-an occupation sufficiently arduous, an in a great degree, new and original in our language. But!

by far the greater part of his poetry is of a different and a higher character; and aims at moving or delighting us by lively, touching, and finely contrasted representations of the dispositions, sufferings, and occupations of those ordinary persons who form the far greater part of our fellow-creatures. This, too, he has sought to effect, merely by placing before us the clearest, most brief, and most striking sketches of their external conditionthe most sagacious and unexpected strokes of character and the truest and most pathetic pictures of natural feeling and common suffering. By the mere force of his art, and the novelty of his style, he forces us to attend to objects that are usually neglected, and to enter into feelings from which we are in general but too eager to escape-and then trusts to nature for the effect of the representation.

It is obvious, at first sight, that this is not a task for an ordinary hand; and that many ingenious writers, who make a very good figure with battles, nymphs, and moonlight landscapes, would find themselves quite helpless, if set down among streets, harbours, and taverns. The difficulty of such subjects, in short, is sufficiently visible-and some of the causes of that difficulty: But they have their advantages also;-and of these, and their hazards, it seems natural to say a few words, before entering more minutely into the merits of the work before us.

The first great advantage of such familiar subjects is, that every one is necessarily well acquainted with the originals; and is therefore sure to feel all that pleasure, from a faithful representation of them, which results from the perception of a perfect and successful imitation. In the kindred art of painting, we find that this single consideration has been sufficient to stamp a very high value upon accurate and lively delineations of objects, in themselves uninteresting, and even disagree. able; and no very inconsiderable part of the pleasure which may be derived from Mr. Crabbe's poetry may probably be referred to its mere truth and fidelity; and to the brevity and clearness with which he sets before his readers, objects and characters with which they have been all their days familiar.

In his happier passages, however, he has a

higher merit, and imparts a far higher grati-ors, ploughmen, and artificers. If the poet fication. The chief delight of poetry consists, can contrive, therefore, to create a sufficient not so much in what it directly supplies to interest in subjects like these, they will infal the imagination, as in what it enables it to libly sink deeper into the mind, and be more supply to itself; not in warming the heart prolific of kindred trains of emotion, than subby its passing brightness, but in kindling its jects of greater dignity. Nor is the difficulty own latent stores of light and heat;-not in of exciting such an interest by any means so hurrying the fancy along by a foreign and ac- great as is generally imagined. For it is cidental impulse, but in setting it agoing, by common human nature, and common human touching its internal springs and principles of feelings, after all, that form the true source activity. Now, this highest and most delight- of interest in poetry of every description;— ful effect can only be produced by the poet's and the splendour and the marvels by which striking a note to which the heart and the affec-it is sometimes surrounded, serve no other tions naturally vibrate in unison;-by rousing purpose than to fix our attention on those one of a large family of kindred impressions; workings of the heart, and those energies of by dropping the rich seed of his fancy upon the the understanding, which alone command all fertile and sheltered places of the imagination. the genuine sympathies of human beings→→ But it is evident, that the emotions connected and which may be found as abundantly in the with common and familiar objects-with ob- breasts of cottagers as of kings. Wherever jects which fill every man's memory, and are there are human beings, therefore, with feelnecessarily associated with all that he has ings and characters to be represented, our atever really felt or fancied, are of all others tention may be fixed by the art of the poetthe most likely to answer this description, and by his judicious selection of circumstancesto produce, where they can be raised to a suf- by the force and vivacity of his style, and the ficient height, this great effect in its utmost clearness and brevity of his representations. perfection. It is for this reason that the images and affections that belong to our universal nature, are always, if tolerably represented, infinitely more captivating, in spite of their apparent commonness and simplicity, than those that are peculiar to certain situations, however they may come recommended by novelty or grandeur. The familiar feeling of maternal tenderness and anxiety, which is every day before our eyes, even in the brute creation and the enchantment of youthful love, which is nearly the same in all characters, ranks, and situations-still contribute far more to the beauty and interest of poetry than all the misfortunes of princes, the jealousies of heroes, and the feats of giants, magicians, or ladies in armour. Every one can enter into the former set of feelings; and but a few into the latter. The one calls up a thousand familiar and long-remembered emotionswhich are answered and reflected on every side by the kindred impressions which ex-ments of compassion, and embryos of kindness perience or observation have traced upon and concern, which had once fairly begun to every memory: while the other lights up but live and germinate within them, though witha transient and unfruitful blaze, and passes ered and broken off by the selfish bustle and away without perpetuating itself in any kin- fever of our daily occupations. Now, all these dred and native sensation. may be revived and carried on to maturity by the art of the poet ;-and, therefore, a powerful effort to interest us in the feelings of the humble and obscure, will usually call forth more deep, more numerous, and more permanent emotions, than can ever be excited by the fate of princesses and heroes. Independent of the circumstances to which we have already alluded, there are causes which make us at all times more ready to enter into the feelings of the humble, than of the exalted part of our species. Our sympathy with their enjoyments is enhanced by a certain mixture of pity for their general condition, which, by purifying it from that taint of envy which almost always adheres to our admiration of the great, renders it more welcome and satisfactory to our bosoms; while our concern for their sufferings is at once softened and endeared to

In point of fact, we are all touched more deeply, as well as more frequently, in real life, with the sufferings of peasants than of princes; and sympathise much oftener, and more heartily, with the successes of the poor. than of the rich and distinguished. The occasions of such feelings are indeed so many, and so common, that they do not often leave any very permanent traces behind them, but pass away, and are effaced by the very rapidity of their succession. The business and the cares, and the pride of the world, obstruct the development of the emotions to which they would naturally give rise; and press so close and thick upon the mind, as to shut it, at most seasons, against the reflections that are perpetually seeking for admission. When we have leisure, however, to look quietly into our hearts, we shall find in them an infinite multitude of little fragments of sympathy with our brethren in humble life-abortive move

Now, the delineation of all that concerns the lower and most numerous classes of society, is, in this respect, on a footing with the pictures of our primary affections-that their originals are necessarily familiar to all men, and are inseparably associated with their own most interesting impressions. Whatever may be our own condition, we all live surrounded with the poor, from infancy to age;—we hear daily of their sufferings and misfortunes;and their toils, their crimes, or their pastimes, are our hourly spectacle. Many diligent readers of poetry know little, by their own experience, of palaces, castles, or camps; and still less of tyrants, warriors, and banditti ;but every one understands about cottages, streets, and villages; and conceives, pretty correctly, the character and condition of sail

1

us, by the recollection of our own exemption and anatomical precision; and must make from them, and by the feeling, that we fre- both himself and his readers familiar with the quently have it in our power to relieve them. ordinary traits and general family features of From these, and from other causes, it ap- the beings among whom they are to move, bepears to us to be certain, that where subjects, fore they can either understand, or take much taken from humble life, can be made suffi- interest in the individuals who are to engross ciently interesting to overcome the distaste their attention. Thus far, there is no excess and the prejudices with which the usages of or unnecessary minuteness. But this faculty polished society too generally lead us to re- of observation, and this power of description, gard them, the interest which they excite will hold out great temptations to go further. commonly be more profound and more lasting There is a pride and a delight in the exercise than any that can be raised upon loftier of all peculiar power; and the poet, who has themes; and the poet of the Village and the learned to describe external objects exquiBorough be oftener, and longer read, than the sítely, with a view to heighten the effect of poet of the Court or the Camp. The most his moral designs, and to draw characters popular passages of Shakespeare and Cowper, with accuracy, to help forward the interest or we think, are of this description: and there is the pathos of the picture, will be in great danmuch, both in the volume before us, and inger of describing scenes, and drawing charMr. Crabbe's former publications, to which acters, for no other purpose, but to indulge his we might now venture to refer, as proofs of taste, and to display his talents. It cannot be the same doctrine. When such representa- denied, we think, that Mr. Crabbe has, on tions have once made an impression on the many occasions, yielded to this temptation. imagination, they are remembered daily, and He is led away, every now and then, by his for ever. We can neither look around, nor lively conception of external objects, and by within us, without being reminded of their his nice and sagacious observation of human truth and their importance; and, while the character; and wantons and luxuriates in demore brilliant effusions of romantic fancy are scriptions and moral portrait painting, while recalled only at long intervals, and in rare his readers are left to wonder to what end so situations, we feel that we cannot walk a step much industry has been exerted. from our own doors, nor cast a glance back on our departed years, without being indebted to the poet of vulgar life for some striking image or touching reflection, of which the occasions were always before us, but-till he taught us how to improve them-were almost always allowed to escape.

His chief fault.however, is his frequent lapse into disgusting representations; and this, we will confess, is an error for which we find it far more difficult either to account or to apologise. We are not, however, of the opinion which we have often heard stated, that he has represented human nature under too unfavourable an aspect; or that the distaste which his poetry sometimes produces, is owing merely to the painful nature of the scenes and subjects with which it abounds. On the contrary, we think he has given a juster, as well as a more striking picture, of the true character and situation of the lower orders of this country, than any other writer, whether in verse or in prose; and that he has made no more use of painful emotions than was necessary to the production of a pathetic effect.

Such, we conceive, are some of the advantages of the subjects which Mr. Crabbe has in a great measure introduced into modern poetry-and such the grounds upon which we venture to predict the durability of the reputation which he is in the course of acquiring. That they have their disadvantages also, is obvious; and it is no less obvious, that it is to these we must ascribe the greater part of the faults and deformities with whi author is fairly chargeable. The two great errors into which he has fallen, are-that he has described many things not worth describing-and that he has frequently excited disgust, instead of pity or indignation, in the breasts of his readers. These faults are obvious-and, we believe, are popularly laid to his charge Yet there is, in so far as we have observed, a degree of misconception as to the true grounds and limits of the charge, which we think it worth while to take this opportunity of correcting.

The poet of humble life must describe a great deal-and must even describe, minutely, many things which possess in themselves no beauty or grandeur. The reader's fancy must be awaked-and the power of his own pencil displayed: a distinct locality and imaginary reality must be given to his characters and agents: and the ground colour of their common condition must be laid in, before his peculiar and selected groups can be presented with any effect or advantage. In the same way, he must study characters with a minute

All powerful and pathetic poetry, it is obvious, abounds in images of distress. The delight which it bestows partakes strongly of pain; and, by a sort of contradiction, which has long engaged the attention of the reflecting, the compositions that attract us most powerfully, and detain us the longest, are those that produce in us most of the effects of actual suffering and wretchedness. The solution of this paradox is to be found, we think, in the simple fact, that pain is a far stronger sensation than pleasure, in human existence; and that the cardinal virtue of all things that are intended to delight the mind, is to produce a strong sensation. Life itself appears to consist in sensation; and the universal passion of all beings that have life, seems to be, that they should be made intensely conscious of it, by a succession of powerful and engrossing emotions. All the mere gratifications or natural pleasures that are in the power even of the most fortunate, are quite insufficient to fill this

« 前へ次へ »