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flock, as well as to his muse; and he has even (a circumstance not unworthy commemoration,) imposed silence on the latter for thirty-five years. His first poems date from 1783. Mr. Crabbe was almost forgotten in 1808. Fortunately all his poetry was not; and his literary resurrection was hailed with general acclamation. It was remembered that the smile of Johnson and Burke had encouraged his debut, and his preface informed the world that his new productions had charmed the dying moments of Fox.
Although Mr. Crabbe be obviously of Cowper's school, he has also a peculiar style and peculiar system. Mr. Crabbe, decidedly one of the greatest poets of the day, would seem to have never written any thing but inculpation of poetry. He has taken literally the common allegation against the muse, that she only lives by lies, and has made it a point of conscience to refute her. It is not, indeed, in the fantastic country of enchantments, and under the windows of palaces, that he has dared to declare war against her. He has established his battery on a certain prosaic region, where the illusions of her witchcraft are more easily dissipated and annulled ; and where, according to his view, her enchantments appeared most fatal. It matters little to him whether or not she flatter the powerful and the rich: but he forbids her to diffuse her gilding and perfume over the dwellings of the poor, lest she may so interdict them from pity and instruction. While following Mr. Crabbe
through The Village or The Borough, beneath the villager's roof, or along the aisles of the cemetery, I picture to myself an old priest of the age of ignorance and chivalry, whom superstitious serfs would have appealed to, in order to banish, by his exorcisms, the fairy or hobgoblin of the village. Mr. Crabbe also reminds me of the catholic priest, by his profound knowledge of the human heart. None of the secrets of self-love escape him: he seizes the most complicated thread of the tissue of instincts, varieties, and passions, which constitute the human character. It would seem as if he had collected, by means of auricular confession, the avowals of a hundred different hearts.
Mr. Crabbe, in his descriptions and portraits, does not, therefore, employ himself solely on the subject of externals, like the Flemish painters : he, like them, is careful of mechanical and minute exactness of costume, of his groupes, and the disposal of his lights and shades: but he, moreover, imparts so true and expressive a physiognomy to his personages, that they are never lost sight of, for the sake of admiring the mere accessories. It must be, however, admitted, with the critics, that his poetry affects sometimes, by overlaying the details, an air of technical precision. Although capable of embracing a vast circumference of subject, he too often prefers contracting himself within a narrow framework, and in his study of man, he more readily attaches himself to the individual than to the species. He is rather literal
than natural, as Hazlitt has said, to whom he has supplied materials for one of his most singular criticisms.
“He takes an inventory of the human heart exactly in the same manner as of the furniture of a sick room ; his sentiments have very much the air of fixtures; he gives you the petrifaction of a sigh, and carves a tear to the life in stone. Almost all his characters are tired of their lives, and you heartily wish them dead. They remind one of anatomical preservations; and may be said to bear the same relation to actual life, that a stuffed cat, in a glass case, does to the real one purring on the hearth.”
In the desire to amuse by his ridiculous metaphors, Hazlitt has set out on the fallacious supposition that Mr. Crabbe meant to write pastorals. Mr. Crabbe had no such intention, even when depicting the rural labourer. If Don Quixote had known no oiher shepherds than those of Crabbe, he would never have added to his other absurdities, that of desiring to carry a crook. But it is certain that his taste for depicting the vulgar personages of real life, according to their costume, their ignoble sentiments, and their familiar language, leads him into too prosaic negligences of style. In aiming to be energetic, he is no more than trite; and his too denuded images inspire a kind of repugnance. His habit of tracing the moral deformities, with the fidelity of an anatomist, imparts to some of his compositions an air of bitterness and invective. It is obvious
that he takes delight in the strokes of a caustic raillery: and, without imbibing any doubt of his philanthropy, one might be tempted to suspect that there was more contempt than love in his pity; for the objects of his pity are, at the same time, the victims of his satire. It is he whom Sir W. Scott designates, in one of his novels, as the English Juvenal. I should, for my part, rather designate him as the La Rochefoucault of the inferior classes. Poor human nature is only ridiculous, according to him, when it pretends to the heroism and sublimity of the virtues. Accord. ingly, no one is less sentimental than Mr. Crabbe. The undecorated beauty of the country does not even inspire it but seldom. Bathed in the sweat of the peasant's brow, it is, to his view, equally deprived of its enchantments as the village. But after all, poetical in spite of himself, Mr. Crabbe attaches us to him, not only by his magic talent of observation, his depth, and the sagacity of his remarks, but also by the infinitude of his sketches of nature, by his scenes of a heart-rending pathos, by his graceful pictures, and even by the sublime flights of a decidedly lyric poetry. It would be difficult to make war on imagination with more imagination. I shall continue the analysis of his distinguished talent at the same time as that of his principal works; my quotations will occasionally appear exceptions from his system; but these exceptions are numerous, and have given popu. larity to his verses.
The Village was the origin of Mr. Crabbe's reputation. The aim of the poet is to prove, that the villager of real life has no point of resemblance with those of poetry; that, in point of fact, indigence possesses no constituent but what is extremely unpleasing ; and that vice is not exclu. sively an inhabitant of the palaces of the wealthy. The description of the barren sands of the sea coast, where the author lays his scene, prepares the reader for the new aspect under which he will have to survey the objects usually embellished by the delusive colours of the muse:
“ Lo! where the heath with withering brake grown o'er,
Lend the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor ;
It is on this ungrateful soil that Crabbe looks for the simple charms of the pastoral life ; but he finds there nothing but rapine, outrage, and terror. A bold, gloomy, artful, and savage race have there abandoned the labours of agriculture