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Tales of the Hall. By the Reverend GEORGE CRABBE. 2 vols. 8vo. pp. 670. London: 1819.
MR. CRABBE is the greatest mannerist, per- | but their combination-in such proportions at haps, of all our living poets; and it is rather least as occur in this instance-may safely be unfortunate that the most prominent features pronounced to be original. of his mannerism are not the most pleasing. Extraordinary, however, as this combination The homely, quaint, and prosaic style-the must appear, it does not seem very difficult flat, and often broken and jingling versification to conceive in what way it may have arisen ; -the eternal full-lengths of low and worth- and, so far from regarding it as a proof of sinless characters-with their accustomed gar-gular humorousness, caprice, or affectation nishings of sly jokes and familiar moralising in the individual, we are rather inclined to are all on the surface of his writings; and are hold that something approaching to it must be almost unavoidably the things by which we the natural result of a long habit of observaare first reminded of him, when we take up tion in a man of genius, possessed of that any of his new productions. Yet they are not temper and disposition which is the usual acthe things that truly constitute his peculiar companiment of such a habit; and that the manner; or give that character by which he same strangely compounded and apparently will, and ought to be, remembered with future incongruous assemblage of themes and sentigenerations. It is plain enough, indeed, that ments would be frequently produced under these are things that will make nobody re- such circumstances-if authors had oftener membered and can never, therefore, be re- the courage to write from their own impresally characteristic of some of the most original sions, and had less fear of the laugh or wonand powerful poetry that the world has ever der of the more shallow and barren part of
Mr. C., accordingly, has other gifts; and those not less peculiar or less strongly marked than the blemishes with which they are contrasted; an unrivalled and almost magical power of observation, resulting in descriptions
It is no great matter. If he will only write a few more Tales of the kind we have suggested at the beginning of this article, we shall engage for it that he shall have our praises-and those of more fastidious critics-whatever be the qualities of his style or versification.
These, we think, are the true characteristics of the genius of this great writer; and it is in their mixture with the oddities and defects to which we have already alluded, that the peculiarity of his manner seems to us substantially to consist. The ingredients may all of them be found, we suppose, in other writers;
A great talent for observation, and a delight in the exercise of it-the power and the practice of dissecting and disentangling that subtle and complicated tissue, of habit, and self-love, and affection, which constitute human characterseems to us, in all cases, to imply a contemplative, rather than an active disposition. It can only exist, indeed, where there is a good deal of social sympathy; for, without this, the occupation could excite no interest, and afford no satisfaction-but only such a measure and sort of sympathy as is gratified by being a spectator, and not an actor on the great theatre of life-and leads its possessor rather to look with eagerness on the feats and the fortunes of others, than to take a share for himself in the game that is played before him. Some stirring and vigorous spirits there are, no doubt, in which this taste and talent is combined with a more thorough and effective sympathy; and leads to the study of men's characters by an actual and hearty participation in their various passions and pursuits; though it is to be remarked, that when such persons embody their observations in writing, they will generally be found to exhibit their characters in action, rather than to describe them in the abstract; and to let their various personages disclose themselves and their peculiarities, as it were spontaneously, and without help or preparation, in their ordinary conduct and speech-of all which we have a very splendid and striking example in the
so true to nature as to strike us rather as transcripts than imitations-an anatomy of character and feeling not less exquisite and searching an occasional touch of matchless tenderness-and a deep and dreadful pathetic, interspersed by fits, and strangely interwoven with the most minute and humble of his details. Add to all this the sure and profound sagacity of the remarks with which he every now and then startles us in the midst of very unambitious discussions ;-and the weight and terseness of the maxims which he drops, like oracular responses, on occasions that give no promise of such a revelation;-and last, though not least, that sweet and seldom sounded chord of Lyrical inspiration, the lightest touch of which instantly charms away all harshness from his numbers, and all lowness from his themes and at once exalts him to a level with the most energetic and inventive poets
of his age.
Tales of My Landlord, and the other pieces | originally mingled in his composition.-Yet of that extraordinary writer. In the common satirists, we think, have not in general been case, however, a great observer, we believe, ill-natured persons and we are inclined rawill be found, pretty certainly, to be a person ther to ascribe this limited and uncharitable of a shy and retiring temper-who does not application of their powers of observation to mingle enough with the people he surveys, to their love of fame and popularity,-which are be heated with their passions, or infected with well known to be best secured by successful their delusions and who has usually been ridicule or invective-or, quite as probably, led, indeed, to take up the office of a looker indeed, to the narrowness and insufficiency on, from some little infirmity of nerves, or of the observations themselves, and the imweakness of spirits, which has unfitted him perfection of their talents for their due confrom playing a more active part on the busy duct and extension. It is certain, at least, we scene of existence. think, that the satirist makes use but of half the discoveries of the observer; and teaches but half-and the worser half-of the lessons which may be deduced from his occupation. He puts down, indeed, the proud pretensions of the great and arrogant, and levels the vain
Now, it is very obvious, we think, that this contemplative turn, and this alienation from the vulgar pursuits of mankind, must in the first place, produce a great contempt for most of those pursuits, and the objects they seek to obtain a levelling of the factitious distinc-distinctions which human ambition has estions which human pride and vanity have es- tablished among the brethren of mankind;— tablished in the world, and a mingled scorn he and compassion for the lofty pretensions under "Bares the mean heart that lurks beneath a Star," which men so often disguise the nothingness of their chosen occupations. When the many--and destroys the illusions which would coloured scene of life, with all its petty agi-limit our sympathy to the forward and figurtations, its shifting pomps, and perishable ing persons of this world-the favourites of passions, is surveyed by one who does not fame and fortune. But the true result of obmix in its business, it is impossible that it servation should be, not so much to cast down should not appear a very pitiable and almost the proud, as to raise up the lowly;-not so ridiculous affair; or that the heart should not much to diminish our sympathy with the echo back the brief and emphatic exclama- powerful and renowned, as to extend it to all, tion of the mighty dramatist— who, in humbler conditions, have the same, or still higher claims on our esteem or affection. It is not surely the natural consequence of learning to judge truly of the characters of men, that we should despise or be indifferent
Or the more sarcastic amplification of it, in about them all ;-and, though we have learned the words of our great moral poet
"Behold the Child, by Nature's kindly law,
Pleas'd with a rattle, tickl'd with a straw!
to see through the false glare which plays
Pleas'd with this bauble still as that before, Till tir'd we sleep-and Life's poor play is o'er!" This is the more solemn view of the sub-imposture, or think the concerns of our species ject-But the first fruits of observation are fit subjects only for scorn and derision. Our most commonly found to issue in Satire-the promptitude to admire and to envy will indeed unmasking the vain pretenders to wisdom, be corrected, our enthusiasm abated, and our and worth, and happiness, with whom society distrust of appearances increased;-but the is infested, and holding up to the derision of sympathies and affections of our nature will mankind those meannesses of the great, those continue, and be better directed-our love of miseries of the fortunate, and those
our kind will not be diminished-and our indulgence for their faults and follies, if we read our lesson aright, will be signally strengthened and confirmed. The true and proper effect, therefore, of a habit of observation, and a thorough and penetrating knowledge of human character, will be, not to extinguish our sympathy, but to extend it-to turn, no doubt, many a throb of admiration, and many a sigh of love into a smile of derision or of pity; but at the same time to reveal much that commands our homage and excites our affection, in those humble and unexplored regions of the heart and understanding, which never engage the attention of the incurious, and to bring the whole family of mankind nearer to a level, by finding out latent merits as well as latent defects in all its members, and com
"Life's a poor player, Who frets and struts his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more!"
"Fears of the brave, and follies of the wise," which the eye of a dispassionate observer so quickly detects under the glittering exterior by which they would fain be disguised-and which bring pretty much to a level the intellect, and morals, and enjoyments, of the great mass of mankind.
This misanthropic end has unquestionably been by far the most common result of a habit of observation; and that in which its effects have most generally terminated: -Yet we cannot bring ourselves to think that it is their just or natural termination. Something, no doubt, will depend on the temper of the individual, and the proportions in which the gall and the milk of human kindness have been
pensating the flaws that are detected in the boasted ornaments of life, by bringing to light the richness and the lustre that sleep in the mines beneath its surface.
terises sufficiently the satirical vein of our author: But the other is the most extensive and important. In rejecting the vulgar sources of interest in poetical narratives, and reducing his ideal persons to the standard of reality, Mr. C. does by no means seek to extinguish the sparks of human sympathy within us, or to throw any damp on the curiosity with which we naturally explore the characters of each other. On the contrary, he has afforded new and more wholesome food for all those propensities-and, by placing before us those details which our pride or fastidiousness is so apt to overlook, has disclosed, in all their truth and simplicity, the native and unadulterated workings of those affections which are at the bottom of all social interest, and are really rendered less touching by the exagge rations of more ambitious artists-while he exhibits, with admirable force and endless variety, all those combinations of passions and opinions, and all that cross-play of selfishness and vanity, and indolence and ambition, and habit and reason, which make up the intel-lectual character of individuals, and present to every one an instructive picture of his neighbour or himself. Seeing, by the perfection of his art, the master passions in their springs, and the high capacities in their rudiments and having acquired the gift of tracing all the propensities and marking tendencies of our plastic nature, in their first slight indications, or even from the aspect of the disguises they so often assume, he does not need, in order to draw out his characters in all their life and distinctness, the vulgar demonstration of those striking and decided actions by which their maturity is proclaimed even to the careless and inattentive;-but delights to point out to his readers, the seeds or tender filaments of those talents and feelings which wait only for occasion and opportunity to burst out and astonish the worldand to accustom them to trace, in characters and actions apparently of the most ordinary description, self-same attributes that, under other circumstances, would attract universal attention, and furnish themes for the most popular and impassioned descriptions.
That he should not be guided in the choice of his subject by any regard to the rank or condition which his persons hold in society, may easily be imagined; and, with a view to the ends he aims at, might readily be forgiven. But we fear that his passion for observation, and the delight he takes in tracing out and analyzing all the little traits that indicate character, and all the little circumstances that influence it, have sometimes led him to be careless about his selection of the instances in which it was to be exhibited, or at least to select them upon principles very different from those which give them an interest in the eyes of ordinary readers. For the purpose of mere anatomy, beauty of form or complexion are things quite indifferent ; and the physiologist, who examines plants only to study their internal structure, and to make himself master of the contrivances by which their various functions are performed,
We are afraid some of our readers may not at once perceive the application of these profound remarks to the subject immediately before us. But there are others, we doubt not, who do not need to be told that they are intended to explain how Mr. Crabbe, and other persons with the same gift of observation, should so often busy themselves with what may be considered as low and vulgar characters; and, declining all dealings with heroes and heroic topics, should not only venture to seek for an interest in the concerns of ordinary mortals, but actually intersperse small pieces of ridicule with their undignified pathos, and endeavour to make their readers look on their books with the same mingled feelings of compassion and amusement, with which-unnatural as it may appear to the readers of poetry —they, and all judicious observers, actually look upon human life and human nature.This, we are persuaded, is the true key to the greater part of the peculiarities of the author before us; and though we have disserted upon it a little longer than was necessary, we really think it may enable our readers to comprehend him, and our remarks on him, something better than they could have done with
There is, as everybody must have felt, a strange mixture of satire and sympathy in all his productions-a great kindliness and compassion for the errors and sufferings of our poor human nature, but a strong distrust of its heroic virtues and high pretensions. His heart is always open to pity, and all the milder emotions-but there is little aspiration after the grand and sublime of character, nor very much encouragement for raptures and ecstasies of any description. These, he seems to think, are things rather too fine for the said poor human nature: and that, in our low and erring condition, it is a lit ridiculous to pretend, either to very exalted and immaculate virtue, or very pure and exquisite happiness. He not only never meddles, therefore, with the delicate distresses and noble fires of the heroes and heroines of tragic and epic fable, but may generally be detected indulging in a lurking sneer at the pomp and vanity of all such superfine imaginations- and turning from them, to draw men in their true postures and dimensions, and with all the imperfections that actually belong to their condition :the prosperous and happy overshadowed with passing clouds of ennui, and disturbed with little flaws of bad humour and discontent the great and wise beset at times with strange weaknesses and meannesses and paltry vexations and even the most virtuous and enlightened falling far below the standard of poetical perfection-and stooping every now and then to paltry jealousies and prejudices or sinking into shabby sensualities--or meditating on their own excellence and importance, with a ludicrous and lamentable anxiety. This is one side of the picture; and charac
pays no regard to the brilliancy of their hues, less that is horrible, and nothing that can be the sweetness of their odours, or the graces said to be absolutely disgusting; and the picof their form. Those who come to him for ture which is afforded of society and human the sole purpose of acquiring knowledge may nature is, on the whole, much less painful participate perhaps in this indifference; but and degrading. There is both less misery the world at large will wonder at them-and and less guilt; and, while the same searching he will engage fewer pupils to listen to his and unsparing glance is sent into all the dark instructions, than if he had condescended in caverns of the breast, and the truth brought some degree to consult their predilections in forth with the same stern impartiality, the the beginning. It is the same case, we think, result is more comfortable and cheering. The in many respects, with Mr. Crabbe. Relying greater part of the characters are rather more for the interest he is to produce, on the curi- elevated in station, and milder and more ous expositions he is to make of the elements amiable in disposition; while the accidents of human character, or at least finding his of life are more mercifully managed, and forown chief gratification in those subtle inves- tunate circumstances more liberally allowed. tigations, he seems to care very little upon It is rather remarkable, too, that Mr. Crabbe what particular individuals he pitches for the seems to become more amorous as he grows purpose of these demonstrations. Almost older,-the interest of almost all the stories every human mind, he seems to think, may in his collection turning on the tender pas serve to display that fine and mysterious sion-and many of them on its most romantic mechanism which it is his delight to explore varieties. and explain;-and almost every condition, and every history of life, afford occasions to show how it may be put into action, and pass through its various combinations. It seems, therefore, almost as if he had caught up the first dozen or two of persons that came across him in the ordinary walks of life,-and then fitting in his little window in their breasts, and applying his tests and instruments of observation, had set himself about such a minute and curious scrutiny of their whole habits, history, adventures, and dispositions, as he thought must ultimately create not only a familiarity, but an interest, which the first aspect of the subject was far enough from leading any one to expect. That he succeeds more frequently than could have been anticipated, we are very willing to allow. But we cannot help feeling, also, that a little more pains bestowed in the selection of his characters, would have made his power of observation and description tell with tenfold effect; and that, in spite of the exquisite truth of his delineations, and the fineness of the perceptions by which he was enabled to make them, it is impossible to take any considerable interest in many of his personages, or to avoid feeling some degree of fatigue at the minute and patient exposition that is made of all that belongs to them.
The plan of the work,-for it has rather more of plan and unity than any of the former,-is abundantly simple. Two brothers, both past middle age, meet together for the first time since their infancy, in the Hall of their native parish, which the elder and richer had purchased as a place of retirement for his declining age-and there tell each other their own history, and then that of their guests, neighbours, and acquaintances. The senior is much the richer, and a bachelor-having been a little distasted with the sex by the unlucky result of an early and very extravagant passion. He is, moreover, rather too reserved and sarcastic, and somewhat Toryish, though with an excellent heart and a powerful understanding. The younger is very sensible also, but more open, social, and talkative-a happy husband and father, with a tendency to Whiggism, and some notion of reform-and a disposition to think well both of men and women. The visit lasts two or three weeks in autumn; and the Tales, which make up the volume, are told in the after dinner tête à têtes that take place in that time between the worthy brothers over their bottle. The married man, however, wearies at length for his wife and children; and his brother lets him go, with more coldness than he had expected. He goes with him, however, a stage on the way; and, inviting him to turn aside a little to look at a new purchase he had made of a sweet farm with a neat mansion, he finds his wife and children comfortably settled there, and all dressed out and ready to receive them! and speedily discovers that he is, by his brother's bounty, the proprietor of a fair domain within a morning's ride of the Hall-where they may discuss polities, and tell tales any afternoon they think proper.
These remarks are a little too general, we believe-and are not introduced with strict propriety at the head of our fourth article on Mr. Crabbe's productions. They have drawn out, however, to such a length, that we can afford to say but little of the work immediately before us. It is marked with all the characteristics that we have noticed, either now or formerly, as distinctive of his poetry. On the whole, however, it has certainly fewer of the grosser faults-and fewer too, perhaps, of the more exquisite passages which occur in his former publications. There is nothing it is but fair to introduce these narrative broat least that has struck us, in going over these thers and their Hall a little more particularly volumes, as equal in elegance to Phoebe Daw- to our readers. The history of the elder and son in the Register, or in pathetic effect to the more austere is not particularly probableConvict's Dream, or Edward Shore, or the nor very interesting; but it affords many pas Parting Hour, or the Sailor dying beside his sages extremely characteristic of the author. Sweetheart. On the other hand, there is far He was a spoiled child, and grew up into a
Though their own stories and descriptions are not, in our opinion, the best in the work,
youth of a romantic and contemplative turn-
and a way that no one but Mr. Crabbe would either have thought of—or thought of describing in verse. In short, he finds her established as the chère amie of another re
spectable banker! and after the first shock is over, sets about considering how he may reclaim her. The poor Perdita professes penitence; and he offers to assist and support her if she will abandon her evil courses. The following passage is fraught with a deep and a melancholy knowledge of character and of human nature.
As her health fails, however, her relapses become less frequent; and at last she dies, grateful and resigned. Her awakened lover is stunned by the blow-takes seriously to business-and is in danger of becoming avaricious; when a severe illness rouses him to higher thoughts, and he takes his name out of the firm, and, being turned of sixty, seeks a place of retirement.
"He chose his native village, and the hill
Now, young no more, retir'd to views well known,
That sun-excluding window gives the room;
"Where crowds assembled I was sure to run,
What storms endanger'd men esteem'd so well;
"She vow'd-she tried!-Alas! she did not know Of one dispos'd to paint their dismal case;
Who gave the sad survivors' doleful tale,
So much for Squire George-unless any reader should care to know, as Mr. Crabbe has kindly told, that-"The Gentleman was tall," and, moreover, "Looked old when folOf Captain Richard, the story is more varied and rambling. He was rather neglected in his youth; and passed his time, when a boy, very much, as we cannot help supposing, Mr. Crabbe must have passed his own. He ran wild in the neighbourhood of a seaport, and found occupation enough in its precincts.
"There were fond girls, who took me to their side,
Once he saw a boat upset; and still recollects enough to give this spirited sketch of the scene.
"Then were those piercing shrieks, that frantic
"And who is she apart! She dares not come
He also pries into the haunts of the smugglers, and makes friends with the shepherds on the downs in summer; and then he becomes intimate with an old sailor's wife, to whom he reads sermons, and histories, and