« PreviousContinue »
of human beings.” The letter he addressed to that eminent statesman, was not to be mistaken: the air it bore of sincerity, tempered by melancholy resignation, could not be counterfeit. An early interview was appointed by Burke, and from that instant, the difficulties of the poet were past. But this is a theme on which his son must speak. The following is an honorable expression of his enthusiasm, in “ The Life :"
“ He went into Mr. Burke's room, a poor young adventurer, spurned by the opulent, and rejected by the publishers, his last shilling gone and all but his last hope with it: he came out virtually secure of almost all the good fortune that, by successive steps, afterwards fell to his lot-his genius acknowledged by one whose verdict could not be questioned-his character and manners appreciated and approved by a noble and capacious heart, whose benevolence knew no limits but its power--that of a giant in intellect, who was, in feeling, an unsophisticated child--a bright example of the close affinity between superlative talents and the warmth of the generous affections. Mr. Crabbe had afterwards many other friends, kind, liberal, and powerful, who assisted him in his professional career; but it was one hand alone that rescued him when he was sinking.”. Vol. i. p.
93. The friendship of Burke to our poet, was every thing. He shortly became established in the family circle of Beaconsfield, and was frequently the companion of the statesman in his private walks. One of the first fruits of this intercourse was a severer criticism than the poet had been accustomed to, of his different manuscripts. Of these there must have been a various stock. He mentions in the Journal, a poem of three hundred and fifty lines with the fanciful title of “ An Epistle from the Devil ;" then there were “ Poetical Epistles, with a preface by the learned Martinus Scritblerus;" “ The Hero, an Epistle to Prince William Henry,” and a prose treatise, being “A plan for the Examination of our Moral and Religious Opinions, with two dramas." These were at once rejected, and the poet's powers fastened on “ The Library,” and “ The Village,” works which, on their publication, at once elevated him in the literary world.
The disposition of Crabbe had always been religious. Nothing less, indeed, than this powerful principle, could have sustained him through the difficulties of his early life. His private journal breathes the most devotional spirit. It was with no improper feelings then, that he professed to Burke an attachment for the ministry, and through his influence was admitted to orders. From this period the events of Crabbe's life, may be briefly comprised: through the continued kindness of his patron, he became chaplain to the Duke of Rutland, when he published the “Village.” The “ Newspaper" appeared in 1785, and twenty two years afterward, “ The Parish Register,” “ The Borough,” “ Tales in Verse," and “ Tales of the Hall,” with a volume of posthumous poems, complete the list of his works. For the copy-right of the “ Tales of the Hall,” in 1819, he received from Murray the liberal sum of three thousand pounds. The intervals of these various publications were mostly spent in the quiet of domestic life, in the discharge of his clerical duties, and in the labor of the pen. During the latter part of his life Crabbe made occasional journeys to London, where he was always received in the first walks of society. He also paid a visit to Sir Walter Scott, with whom he had long held correspondence at Edinburgh. The personal anecdotes of his life, if not extraordinary, are always pleasing. He was a fluent writer, and found occasion, at times, to submit his productions to what he calls a “ grand incremation," which was not huddled over in a chimney, but regularly consummated in the open air, his children officiating with great glee at the bonfire. He would be seized with the poetic inspiration, especially during a snow storm; on one such occasion he composed the very powerful tale of “ Sir Eustace Grey.” At one time he was taken with a desire to see the ocean again, and “mounting his horse rode alone to the coast of Lincolnshire, sixty miles from his house, dipped in the waves that washed the beach of Aldborough, and returned to Strathern." He had the gentlest disposition, and, as in the case of Cowper, a striking fondness for the society of intelligent females, affords evidence of the purity and simplicity of his character. The correspondence with Mary Leadbeater, in which he so naturally assumes the demure phrase and conversation of Quakerism, does him honor for its artless sincerity. His devotion to the study of botany-evidences of which are scattered through his poems, was also the mark of a simple mind. A naturalist is, with rare exceptions, a good man. Crabbe was · always a friend to fiction, and what may excite surprise, not confined to the more classic, he devoured eagerly, his package from London, of all the productions of the season. He found something in the poorest : a great writer is not always the severest critic. He was eminently the man of private lifethe kind father, the constant friend; and ever ready to the call of the poor, he was loved by all. It was a melancholy day at his village of Trowbridge, when in 1832 Crabbe, at the advanced age of seventy-eight died, full of years and honor. The anthem selected at his funeral accorded well with the feelings of those who knew him best :
“When the ear heard him, then it blessed him ;
Kindness, and meekness, and comfort, were in his tongue.' This slight sketch of the life of Crabbe has been given for its illustration of the spirit of his poetry. The gentler traits of his poetical characters were always drawn from himself. As we are naturally led in reading the plays of Shakspeare, to distinguish the more human emotions of common life rather than the high bursts of passion, and weave them into the history of the dramatist, so the disposition of Crabbe may be truly gathered from his verse. There is a popular idea that our author deals only in the severer traits of nature ; that he is ever groping in poor houses and dungeons, among the vicious and unfortunate ; that his pages abound with harshness and gloom; that he pictures only the penseroso of life in its most repulsive aspect. This is not the character of the great poet of actual life. He has been more just to nature. In his moral anatomy of society, he has laid bare many errors and misfortunes of the species. He has painted life as it came before him, and never violated truth for sickly sentiment. He has drawn a portion of societythe village poor-as they truly exist. But he has found too “the soul of goodness in things evil.”—The tares and wheat of this world spring up together, and in whatever rank of men there must be much good. No one observes this truth more than our poet; and in his darkest pictures we have gleams of the kindliest virtues. The severity of Crabbe's muse consists in a faithful portraiture of nature. If man is not always happy, it is not the poet's fault. There is too much of sober reality in life to make the picture other than it is. This Crabbe knows, for he writes of scenes under his own observation. He lived amidst the people he describes, felt their little occasional joys, and saddened over their many misfortunes. But in the gloomiest character he never “oversteps the modesty of nature.” He does not accumulate horrors for effect. He has no extravagant and unnatural heroes pouring forth their morbid sentiment in his pages. There is no sickly affectation, but a pure and healthy portrait of life—of life it may be in its unhappiest, but in its least artificial development, where society has done little to alter its rough uneducated tones, where the actual feelings and passions of man may be traced at every footstep.
In our analysis of the poetry of Crabbe, we would first notice his originality. He struck out for himself a new walk in literature. Other poets had dwelt in fiction, and spoken the VOL. I.-NO. I.
language of imagination. They had reviewed the relations of society, and mastered life in its general aspect. From their retirement they had watched the characters of men and moralized over their foibles. Their round of observation had at length grown familiar, and in fact seemed destined for ever to copy the same features, and repeat the same sentiments. If they at times extended their view from the court and town, to the scenes of the country, it was to clothe the inhabitants in the imaginary simplicity of shepherds and shepherdesses as innocent and simple, and quite as characterless as their flocks. The conventional qualities of Damons, Strephons, and Chloes had been stereotyped in verse, till the reader was wearied with the repetition. Crabbe was the first to break this chain of studied refinements. He turned the waters of poetry from the wornout ground of letters to the fresh and uncultivated soil. Long before the Lake school appeared, he had taught the world poetry might descend to the philosophy of common life, might enter into the sympathies and hopes of man, might be familiar with his most ordinary emotions without losing the least of its lofty energy. He was the first poet of the poor. He first carried the light of poetry into the rude cabin of the villager, and recorded the humble history of poverty. No other author, ancient or modern, can supply the peculiar place of Crabbe. He stands distinct from every other class of writers.
A chief element of the interest of our author lies in the spirit of humanity breathed through his verse.—In the fine phrase of Shakspeare “ all his senses have but human conditions." He loves man purely as man. He suffers no prejudice to divert his philanthropy. He has the true feeling of sympathy for life. We constantly meet with traits of unmingled charity in his writings. He recognizes the humblest joys and sorrows of existence. With such passages as the following, we wonder that he could ever be thought only stern and forbidding. It is highly characteristic of his kindly feeling for all that conduces to virtuous happiness, however lowly. He is describing a village scene in the Parish Register.
“ Here on a Sunday eve, when service ends,
What, though fastidious ears may shun the speech,
Prompts the glad tongue these nothings to impart;
And speaks in all their looks and all their ways." Let no one complain of Crabbe's severity and gloom. With the first power as a moral poet, his nature is never satiric. We may believe him when in one of his occasional pieces he says :
“ I love not the satiric Muse :
No man on earth would I abuse ;
The most offending son of Eve.”Crabbe's forte is description. He excels in drawing the minutiæ of a picture. He does not depend for success on a few great outlines, but on repeated touches. He particularizes every feature till we have the whole scene vividly before us. He brings the subject fully out upon the canvas. Every circumstance tells.-As in the paintings of Wilkie, nothing is neglected. The sketch of the parish poor-house in “ The Village, is a well known example. As a more incidental instance of this power of picturesque illustration, there is a brief narrative of a baptism which occurs in the Parish Register.
Her boy was born-no lads nor lasses came
The latter portion of this passage is in the spirit of Gray, and we are closely reminded of a line in the Elegy, where is described so vividly,
"The swallow twittering on the straw-built shed;" but Crabbe has connected the inanimate picture with living nature by the contrast in his verse.
It is time that we should approach one of the higher qualities of our poet. He is a powerful master of pathos. Gifford, alluding to a portion of the Borough, remarks, “ Longinus somewhere mentions, that it was a question among the critics of his age, whether the sublime could be produced by tenderness. If this question had not been alreay determined, this history would have gone far to bring it to a decision.” The praise is