George Crabbe.

The poetical works of George Crabbe online

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No ! let the guiltless, if there such be found,
Launch forth the spear, and deal the deadly wound.
How can I so the cause of virtue aid.
Who am myself attainted and afraid ?
Yet as I can, I point the powers of rhyme.
And, sparing criminals, attack the crime.


gtbicaltb to Ijcr (5r;tce IsubrUiT, glucbcss gofoagtr of |iutlanlr.


That the appearance of the present work before the public is occasioned
by a favourable reception of the former two, I hesitate not to acknow-
ledge : because, while the confession may be regarded as some proof of
•gratitude, or at least of attention, from an author to his readers, it ought
not to be considered as an indication of vanity. It is unquestionably very
pleasant to be assured that our labours are weU received ; but, neverthe-
less, this must not be taken for a just and full criterion of their merit :
publications of great intrinsic value have been met with so much coolness,
that a writer who succeeds in obtaining some degree of notice should look
upon himself rather as one favoured than meritorious, as gaining a prize
from Fortune, and not a recompense for desert; and, on the contrary, as
it is well known that books of very inferior kind have been at once pushed
into the strong current of popularity, and are there kept buoyant by the
force of the stream, the writer who acquires not this adventitious help
may be reckoned rather as unfortunate than undeserving : and from tliese
opposite considerations it follows, that a man may speak of his success
without incurring justly the odium of conceit, and may likewise acknow-
ledge a disappointment without an adequate cause for humiliation or

But were it true that something of the complacency of self- approbation
would insinuate itself into an author's mind with tlie idea of success, the
Rcnsation would not be that of unalloyed pleasure ; it would perhaps
assist him to bear, but it would not enable him to escape, the mortification
he must encoimter from censures, which, though he may be unwilling to
admit, yet he finds himself unable to confute; as well as from advice,
which, at the same time that he cannot but approve, he is compelled to

Reproof and advice, it is probable, every author will receive, if we
except those who merit so much of the former, that the latter is con-
temptuously denied them. Now, of these, reproof, though it may cause
more temporary uneasiness, will in many cases create less difficulty, since
errors may be corrected when opportunity occurs ; but advice, I repeat,
may be of such nature, that it will be i)ainlul to reject, and yet impossible
to follow it ; and in this predicament 1 conceive myself to be placed.
There has been recommended to me, and from authority which neither
inclination nor iiruilcnce leads me to resist, in any new work I might
undertake, a unity of subject, and that arrangement of my materials
which coiniects the whole and gives additional iiilercst to every part; in
fact, if not an epic poem, strictly so denominated, yet such composition
as would possess a regular succession of events, and a catastrojihe to
which every incident should be subservient, and which every character.
in a greater or less degree, should conspire to accomplish.

lu a poem of this nature the principal and inferior characters in some

250 crabbe's poems.

(Icgfrce resemble a general and his army, where no one pursues his peculiar
objects and adventures, or pursues them in unison with the movements
and grand purposes of the wlwle body ; where there is a community of
interests and a subordination of actors : and it was upon this view of the
subject, and of the necessity for such distribution of persons and events,
that I found myself obliged to relinquish an undertaking, for which the
characters I could command, and the adventures I could describe, were
altogether unfitted.

But if these characters which seemed to be at my disposal were not such
as would coalesce into one body, nor were of a nature to be commanded
by one mind, so neither, on examination, did they ajipear as an uncon-
nected multitude, accidentally collected, to be suddenly dispersed ; but
rather beings of whom might be formed groups and smaller societies, the
relations of whose adventures and pursuits might bear that kind of simili-
tude to an heroic poem, which these minor associations of men (as
pilgrims on the way to their saint, or parties in search of amusement,
travellers excited by curiosity, or adventurers in pursuit of gain) have in
points of connection and importance with a regular and disciplined army.

Allowing this comparison, it is manifest that, while much is lost for
want of unity of subject and grandeur of design, something is gained by
greater variety of incident and more minute display of character, by
accuracy of description and diversity of scene ; in these narratives we pass
from gay to grave, trom lively to severe, not only without impropriety,
but with manifest advantage. In one continued and connected poem, the
reader is, in general, highly gratified or severely disappointed ; by many
independent narratives, he has the renovation of hope, although he has
been dissatisfied, and a prospect of reiterated pleasure, should he find
himself entertained.

I mean not, however, to compare these different modes of writing as if
I were balancing their advantages and defects before I could give pre-
ference to either : with me the way I take is not a matter of choice, but of
necessity ; I present not my Tales to the reader as if I had chosen tlie best
method of insuring his approbation, but as using the only means I
possessed of engaging his attention.

It may probably be remarked, that tales, however dissimilar, niiglit
have been connected by some associating circumstance to which the
whole number might bear equal altlnity, aiid that examidos of such union
are to be found in Cliaucer, in Boccace, and other collectors and inventors
of tales, which, considered in themselves, are altogether independent ; and
to this idea I gave so much consideration as convinced me that I could
not avail myself of the benefit of such artificial mode of ainnity. To
imitate the English poet, characters must be found adaiited to their
several relations, and this is a point of great dilflculty and hazard ; much
allowance seems to be required even for Chaucer himself; since it is
difficult to ccmceive that on any occasion the devout and delicate Prioress,
the courtly and valiant Knight, an<l " the poure good Man the persone of
a Townc," would be the voluntary companions of the drunken Miller, the
licentious Sumpnour, and "the Wanton Wife of Bath," and enter into
that colloquial and travelling intimacy which, if a common pilgrimage to
the shrine of St. Thomas may be said to excuse, I know nothing beside
(and certainly nothing in these times) that would produce such effect.
Boccace, it is true, avoids all difficulty of this kind, by not assigning to
the ten relators of his hundred tales any marked or peculiar characters;
nor, though there are male and female in company, can the sex of the
narrator bo distinguished in the narration. To have followed the method
of Chaucer might have been of use, but could scarcely be adopted, from its
difficulty; and to have taken that of the Italian writer would have been
perfectly easy, but could be of no service : the attempt at union, therefore,
has been relinquished, and these relations are submitted to the public,
connected by no other circumstance than their being the productions of
the same autlior, and devoted to the same purpose,— the entcrtannuent of
his readers.


It has been already acknowledged,, that these compositions have no
pretensions to he estimated with the more lofty and heroic kind of poems ;
but I feel great reluctance in admitting that they have Tiot a fair and
legitimate claim to the poetic character. In vulgar estimation, indeed, all
that is not prose passes for poetry ; but I have not ambition of so humble
a kind as to be satisfied with a concession which requires nothing in the
poet except his ability for counting syllables ; and I trust something more
of the poetic character will be allowed to the succeeding pages than what
the heroes of the Dunciad might share with the author; nor was I aware
that, by describing, as faithfully as I could, men, manners, and thhigs, I
was forfeiting a just title to a name which has been freely granted to
many, whom to equal, and even to excel, is but very stinted com-

In this ca=e it appears that the usual comparison between poeti-y and
painting entirely fails : the artist who takes an accurate likeness of
individuals, or a faithful representation of scenery, may not rank so high
in the public estimation as one who paints an historical event;, or an
heroic action ; but he is nevertheless a painter, and his accuracy is so far
from diminishing his reputation, that it procures for him in general both
fame and emolument: nnr is it perhaps with strict justice determined that
the credit and reinitation of those verses which strongly aud faithfully
delineate character and manners, should be lessened in the opinion of the
public by the very accuracy which gives value and distinction to the pro-
ductions of the pencil.

Nevertheless, it must be granted that the pretensions of any composition
to be regarded as poetry will depend upon that definition of the poetic
character which he who undertakes to determine the question has con-
sidered as decisive ; and it is confessed also, that one of great authority
may be adopted, by which the verses now before the reader, and many
others which have probably amused and delighted him, must be excluded:
a definition like this will be found in the words which the greatest of poets
not divinely inspired has given to the most noble and valiant Duke of
Athens —

" The poet's eye, iu a fine frenzy rolling.
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven ;
And as imagination botlies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to sliapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation, and a name." *

Hence we observe the Poet is one who, in the excursions of his fancy
between heaven and earth, lights upon a kind of fairy- land, in which he
places a creation of his own, where he embodies shapes, and gives action
and adventure to his ideal offspring : taking captive the imagination of
his readers, he elevates them above the grossness of actual being into the
soothing and pleasant atmosphere of super-mundane existence : there he
obtains for his visionary inhabitants the interest tliat engages a reader's
attention without rutding his feelings, and excites that moderate kind of
sympathy whicli the realities of nature oftentimes fail to produce, either
because they are so familiar and insignificant that they excite no deter-
minate emotion, or are so harsh and powerful that the feelings excited are
grating and distasteful.

Be it tlien granted that (as Duke Theseus observes) " such tricks hath
strong imagination," and that such poets "are of imagination all com-
pact ;" let it be furtlier cmiceded, that theirs is a higher and more digni-
fied kind of composition, nay, the only kind that has pretensions to
inspiration ; still, that these poets should so entirely engross the title as to
exclude ttiose who address their productions to the plain sense and sober
judgment of their readers, rathe.- than to their fancy and imagination, I
must repeat that 1 am unwilling to admit; because 1 conceive that, by
granting such right of exclusion, avast deal of "hat has licen luthcrto
received as genuine poetry would no longer be entitled to that appellation.

• Mklaummer Night's Dream, act v., scene 1.


All that kind of satire wherein character is skilfully delineated must
(this criterion being: allowed) no long-er be esteemed as grenuine poetry ;
dna for the same reason many affecting narratives which are founded on
real events, and borrow no aid whatever from tlie imafjiiiation of the
writer, must likewise be rejected. A considerable part of the poems, as
they have titherto been denominated, of Chaucer, are of this naked and
unveiled character : and there are in his Tales many pages of coarse,
accurate, and minute, but very striking description. JVlany small poems
in a subsequent age, of most impressive kind, are adapted and addressed
to the common sense of the reader, and prevail by the strong language of
truth and nature : they amused our ancestors, and they ccmtinue to
engage our interest, and excite our feelings, by the same powerful appeals
to the heart and affections. In times less remote, Dryden has given us
much of tliis poetry, in which the force of expression and accuracy of
description have neither needed nor obtained assistance from the fancy of
the writer; the characters in his "Absalom and Achitophel' are instances
of this, and more especially those of Doeg and Og in the second part-
these, with all their grossness, and almost offensive accuracy, are founa
to possess that strength and spirit which has preserved from utter
annihilation the dead bodies of Tate, to whom they were inhumanly bound,
happUy with a fate the reverse of that caused by the cruelty of Mezentius;
for there the living perished in the putrefaction of the dead, and here the
dead are preserved by the vitality of tiie living. And to bring forward one
other example, it will be found that Pope himself lias no small portion of
this actuality of relation, this nudity of description, and poetry without an
atmosphere. The hues beginning " In the worst inn's worst room " are
an example, and many others may be seen in his Satires, Imitations, and
above all in his Dunciad : the frequent absence of those " sports of
fancy," and "tricks of strong imagination," have been so much ob-
served, that some have ventured to question whether even this writer
were a poet; and though, as Dr. Johnson has remarked, it would be
difficult to form a definition of one in which Pope should not be admitted,
yet they who doubted his claim had, it is likely, provided for his exclusion
by forming that kind of character for their Poet, in wliich this elegant
versifier, for so he must be then named, should not be comprehended.

These things considered, an author will find comfort in his expulsion
from the rank and society of poets, by reflecting that men much his
superiors were likewise shut out, and more especially when he finds also
that men not much his superiors are entitled to arlmission.

But, in whatever degree I may venture to differ from any others in my
notions of the qualifications and character of tlie true Poet, I most
cordially assent to their opinion who assert, that his principal exertions
must be made to engage the attention of his readers ; and further, I must
allow that the effect of poetry should be to lift the mind from the painful
realities of actual existence, from its everyday concerns, and its per-
petually-occurring vexations, and to give it repose by substituting objects
in their place which it may contemplate with some degree of interest and
satisfaction : but what is there in all this, which may not be effected by a
fair representation of existing character? nay, by a faithful delineation of
those painful realities, those everyday concerns, and those perjictually-
occurring vexations themselves, provided they be not (vihich is hardly to
be supposed) the very concerns and distresses of the reader ? For when it
is admitted that they have no particular relation to him, but are the
troubles and anxieties of other men, they excite and interest his feelings,
as the imaginary exploits, adventures, and perils of romance ; — tliey soothe
his mind, and keep his curiosity pleasantly awake ; they appear to have
enough of reality to engage his .sympathy, but possess not interest sufficient
to create painful sensations. Fiction itself, we know, and every work of
fancy, must for a time have the effect of realities ; nay, the very en-
chanters, spirits, and. monsters of Ariosto and Siienser must be present in
tlie mind of the reader while he is engaged by their operations, or they
would be as the objects and incidents of a nursery tale to a rational


nnderfttandiiig:, altog;ethPr despised and neprlected : in truth, I can but
consider this pleasant effect upon the mind of a reader as depending;
neitlier upon ttie events related (whether they be actual or imaginary;,
nor upon the characters introduced (whether taken Irom life or fancy), but
upon the manner in which the poem itself is conducted. Let that be
judiciously managed, and the occurrences actually copied from life will
have the same happy effect as the inventions of a creative fancy ; while,
on the other hand, the imaginary persons and incidents to which the poet
has given "a local habitation and a name," will make upon the concurring
feelhigs of the reader the same impressions with those taken from truth
and nature, l)ecause they will appear to be derived from that source, and
therefore of necessity will have a similar effect.

Having thus far presumed to claim for the ensuing pages the rank and
title of poetry, I attempt no more, nor venture to class or compare them
with any other kinds of poetical composition: theu* place will doubtless
be found for them.

A priiicii)al view and wish of the poet must be to engage the mind of his
readers, as, failing in that point, he will scarcely succeed in any other: I
therefore willingly confess that much of my time and assiduity has been
devoted to this purpose ; but, to the ambition of pleasing, no other
sacrifices have, I trust, been made, than of my own labour and care.
Nothing will be found that militates against the rules of propriety and
good manners, nothing that offends against the more miportant precepts
of morality and religion ; and with this negative kind of merit, I commit
my book to the iudgment and taste of the reader— not being wiUing to
provoke his vigilance by professions of accuracy, nor to solicit his in-
dulgence by apologies for mistakes.




With frir round belly, "with good cnpon lined.

With eyes severe —

Full of wise saws and modem instances. — As You Like It.

Deep shame hath struck me dumb. — Kinff John.

He gives the bastinado with his tongue ;
Our ears are cudgell'd. — King John.

Let's kill all the lawyers ;
Now show youi-selves men : 'tis for liberty :
We will not leave one lord or gentleiQau. — ^nd Part TTenry VI.

And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.

Twelfth Night.

That all men would be cowards if tbey dare,
Some men we know have coui'age to declare ;
And this the life of many a hero shows,
That, like the tide, man's courage oblis and flows :
With friends and gay companions round them, then
Men boldly speak and have the hearts of men ;
Who, with opponents sealed miss the aid
Of kind applauding looks, and grow afraid ;
Like timid travelers in the night, they fear
Th' assault of foes, when not a friend is near.
In contest mighty, and of conquest proud.
Was Justice Bolt, impetuous, warm, and loud ;
His fame, his prowess all the country' knew.
And disputants, witli one so fierce, were few :
He was a younger son, for law design'd.
With dauntless look and persevering mind ;
While yet a clerk, for disputation famed.
No etlorts tired him, .and no conflicts tamed.
Scarcely he bade his master's desk adieu.
When both his brothers from tlie world withdrew.
An ample fortune he from them possess'd,
And was with saving care and prudence bless'd.
Now would ho go and to the country give
Example how an English squire should live ;
How bounteous, yet how frugal man may be,
By a well-order'd hospitality ;
Ho would the rights of all so well maintain,
That none should idle be, and none complain.


All this and more he purposed — and what man
Could do, ho did to realize his plan ;
But time convinced him that we cannot keep
A breed of reasoners like a flock of sheep ;
For they, so far from following as we lead.
Make that a cause why they will not proceed.
Man will not follow where a rule is shown.
But loves to take a method of his own :
E.xplain the way with all your care and skill,
This will he quit, if but to prove he will.—
Yet had our Justice honour — and the crowd,
Awed by his presence, their respect avow'd.

In later years he found his heart incline.
More than in j-outh, to gen'rous food and wine ;
But no indulgence check'd the powerful love
He felt to teach, to argue, and reprove.

Meetings, or pubhc calls, he never miss'd—
To dictate often, always to assist.
Oft he the clergy join'd, and not a cause
Pertain'd to them but he could quote the laws ;
He upon tithes and residence disjjlay'd
A fund ot knowledge for the hearer's aid ;
And could on glebe and farming, wool and gi'ain,
A long discourse, without a i)ause, maintain.
To his experience and his native sense
He join'd a bold imperious eloquence ;
The grave, stern look of men inform'd and wise,
A full command of feature, heart, and eyes.
An awe-compelling frown, and fear-inspiring size.
When at the table, not a guest was seen
With appetite so lingering, or so keen ;
But when the outer man no more required,
The inner waked, and he was man inspired.
His suV)jects then were those, a subject true
Presents in fairest form to public view ;
Of church and state, of law, with mighty strength
Of words he spoke, in speech of mighty length :
And now, into the vale of years declined.
Ho hides too little of the monarch-mind :
He kindles anger by untimely jokes,
And opposition by contempt provokes ;
Mirth he suppresses by his awful frown,
And humble spiiits, by disdain, keeps down ;
Blamed by the mild, approved by the severe.
The prudent fly him, and the valiant fear.

For overbearing is his proud discourse,
And overwhelming of his voice the force ;
And overpowering is he when he shows
What floats upon a mind that always overflows.

This ready man at every meeting rose,
Someihing to hint, determine, or propose ;
And grew so fond of teaching, that lio taught
Those who instruction needed not or sought :
Happy our hero, when ho could excite

256 ceabbe's poems.

Some thoughtless talker to the wordy fight :

Let him a subject at his pleasure choose.

Physic or law, religion or the muse ;

On" all such themes he was prepared to shine, —

Physician, poet, lawyer, and divine.

Hemm'd in by some tough argument, borne down

By press of language and the awful frown,

In vain for mercy shall the culprit plead ;

His crime is past, and sentence must proceed :

Ah ! sufi'ering man, have patience, bear thy woes—

For lo ! the clock— at ten the Justice goes.

This powerful man, on business, or to please
A curious taste, or weary grown of ease,
On a long jovu-ney tra^U'd many a mile
Westwaixl, and halted'midway in our isle;
Content to view a city large and fair.
Though none had notice— what a man was there !

Silent two days, he then began to long
Again to try a voice so loud and strong ;
To give his favourite topics some new grace.
And gain some glory in such distant place ;
To reap some present pleasure, and to sow
Seeds of fair fame, in after-time to grow :
Here will men say, " We heard, at such an hour,
The best of speakers — wonderful his power."

Inquiry made, he found that day would meet
A learned club, and in the very street :
Knowledge to gain and give, was the design ;
To speak, to hearken, to debate, and dine :
This pleased our traveller, for he felt his force
In either way, to eat or to discourse.

Nothing more easy than to gain access
To men like these, with his polite address :
So he succeeded, and first look'd around,
To view his objects and to take his ground ;
And therefore silent chose awhile to sit,
Then enter boldly by some lucky hit ;
Some observation keen or stroke severe.
To caiise some wonder or excite some fear.^

Now, dinner past, no longer he suppress'd
His strong dislike to be a silent guest ;
Subjects and words were now at his command-
When disajjpointment frown'd on all he plann'd ;
For, hark ! — he heard amazed, on every side,
His church insulted and her priests belied ;
The laws reviled, the ruling power abused,
The land derided, and its foes excused : —
Ho heard and ponder'd.— What, to men so vile,
Should bo his language ?— For liis threafning style
They were too many ;— if his speech were meek.
They would despise such poor attemjits to speak :

Online LibraryGeorge CrabbeThe poetical works of George Crabbe → online text (page 28 of 49)