Alfred Ainger.

English Men of Letters: Crabbe online

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doubtful. It has been a dreadful time, but we may reasonably
hope it is now over. People are frightened certainly, and no
wonder, for it is evident these poor wretches would plunder
to the extent of their power. Attempts were made to burn
the Cathedral, but failed. Many lives were lost. To attempt
any other subject now would be fruitless. We can think,
speak, and write only of our fears, hopes, or troubles. I
would have gone to Bristol to-day, but Mrs. Hoare was
unwilling that I should. She thought, and perhaps rightly,
that clergymen were marked objects. I therefore only went
half-way, and of course could learn but little. All now is
quiet and well."

In the former of these last quoted letters Crabbe refers sadly to the
pain of parting from his old Hampstead friends, - a parting which he felt
might well be the last. His anticipation was to be fulfilled. He left
Clifton in November, and went direct to his son George, at Pucklechurch.
He was able to preach twice for his son, who congratulated the old man
on the power of his voice, and other encouraging signs of vigour. "I
will venture a good sum, sir," he said "that you will be assisting me
ten years hence." "Ten weeks" was Crabbe's answer, and the implied
prediction was fulfilled almost to the day. After a fortnight at
Pucklechurch, Crabbe returned to his own home at Trowbridge. Early in
January he reported himself as more and more subject to drowsiness,
which he accepted as sign of increasing weakness. Later in the month he
was prostrated by a severe cold. Other complications supervened, and it
soon became apparent that he could not rally. After a few days of much
suffering, and pious resignation, he passed away on the third of
February 1832, with his two sons and his faithful nurse by his side. The
death of the rector was followed by every token of general affection and
esteem. The past asperities of religious and political controversy had
long ceased, and it was felt that the whole parish had lost a devout
teacher and a generous friend. All he had written in _The Borough_ and
elsewhere as to the eccentricities of certain forms of dissent was
forgotten, and all the Nonconformist ministers of the place and
neighbourhood followed him to the grave. A committee was speedily formed
to erect a monument over his grave in the chancel. The sculptor chosen
produced a group of a type then common. "A figure representing the dying
poet, casting his eyes on the sacred volume; two celestial beings, one
looking on as if awaiting his departure." Underneath was inscribed,
after the usual words telling his age, and period of his work at
Trowbridge, the following not exaggerated tribute: -

"Born in humble life, he made himself what he was.
By the force of his genius,
He broke through the obscurity of his birth
Yet never ceased to feel for the
Less fortunate;
Entering (as his work can testify) into
The sorrows and deprivations
Of the poorest of his parishioners;
And so discharging the duties of his station as a
Minister and a magistrate,
As to acquire the respect and esteem
Of all his neighbours.
As a writer, he is well described by a great
Contemporary, as
'Nature's sternest painter yet her best.'"

A fresh edition of Crabbe's complete works was at once arranged for by
John Murray, to be edited by George Crabbe, the son, who was also to
furnish the prefatory memoir. The edition appeared in 1834, in eight
volumes. An engraving by Finden from Phillips's portrait of the poet was
prefixed to the last volume, and each volume contained frontispieces and
vignettes from drawings by Clarkson Stanfield of scenery or buildings
connected with Crabbe's various residences in Suffolk and the Yale of
Belvoir. The volumes were ably edited; the editor's notes, together
with, quotations from Crabbe's earliest critics in the _Edinburgh_ and
_Quarterly Reviews_, were interesting and informing, and the
illustrations happily chosen. But it is not so easy to acquiesce in an
editorial decision on a more important matter. The eighth volume is
occupied by a selection from the Tales left in manuscript by Crabbe, to
which reference has already been made. The son, whose criticisms of his
father are generally sound, evidently had misgivings concerning these
from the first. In a prefatory note to this volume, the brothers
(writing as executors) confess these misgivings. They were startled on
reading the new poems in print at the manifest need of revision and
correction before they could be given to the world. They delicately hint
that the meaning is often obscure, and the "images left imperfect." This
criticism is absolutely just, but unfortunately some less well-judging
persons though "of the highest eminence in literature" had advised the
contrary. So "second thoughts prevailed," instead of those "third
thoughts which are a riper first," and the Tales, or a selection from
them, were printed. They have certainly not added to Crabbe's
reputation. There are occasional touches of his old and best pathos, as
in the story of Rachel; and in _The Ancient Mansion_ there are brief
descriptions of rural nature under the varying aspects of the seasons,
which exhibit all Crabbe's old and close observation of detail, such
as: -

"And then the wintry winds begin to blow,
Then fall the flaky stars of gathering snow,
When on the thorn the ripening sloe, yet blue,
Takes the bright varnish of the morning dew;
The aged moss grows brittle on the pale,
The dry boughs splinter in the windy gale."

But there is much in these last Tales that is trivial and tedious, and
it must be said that their publication has chiefly served to deter many
readers from the pursuit of what is best and most rewardful in the study
of Crabbe. To what extent the new edition served to revive any flagging
interest in the poet cannot perhaps be estimated. The edition must have
been large, for during many years past no book of the kind has been more
prominent in second-hand catalogues. As we have seen, the popularity of
Crabbe was already on the wane, and the appearance of the two volumes of
Tennyson, in 1842, must farther have served to divert attention from
poetry so widely different. Workmanship so casual and imperfect as
Crabbe's had now to contend with such consummate art and diction as that
of _The Miller's Daughter_ and _Dora_.

As has been more than once remarked, these stories belong to the
category of fiction as well as of poetry, and the duration of their
power to attract was affected not only by the appearance of greater
poets, but of prose story-tellers with equal knowledge of the human
heart, and with other gifts to which Crabbe could make no claim. His
knowledge and observation of human nature were not perhaps inferior to
Jane Austen's, but he could never have matched her in prose fiction. He
certainly was not deficient in humour, but it was not his dominant gift,
as it was hers. Again, his knowledge of the life and social ways of the
class to which he nominally belonged, does not seem to have been
intimate. Crabbe could not have written prose fiction with any
approximation to the manners of real life. His characters would have
certainly _thou'ed_ and _thee'ed_ one another as they do in his verse,
and a clergyman would always have been addressed as "Reverend Sir!"

Surely, it will be argued, all this is sufficient to account for the
entire disappearance of Crabbe from the list of poets whom every
educated lover of poetry is expected to appreciate. Yet the fact
remains, as FitzGerald quotes from Sir Leslie Stephen, that "with all
its short-and long-comings, Crabbe's better work leaves its mark on the
reader's mind and memory as only the work of genius can," and almost all
English poets and critics of mark, during his time and after it, have
agreed in recognising the same fact. We know what was thought of him by
Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Byron, and Tennyson. Critics differing as
widely in other matters as Macaulay, John Henry Newman, Mr. Swinburne,
and Dr. Gore, have found in Crabbe an insight into the springs of
character, and a tragic power of dealing with them, of a rare kind. No
doubt Crabbe demands something of his readers. He asks from them a
corresponding interest in human nature. He asks for a kindred habit of
observation, and a kindred patience. The present generation of
poetry-readers cares mainly for style. While this remains the habit of
the town, Crabbe will have to wait for any popular revival. But he is
not so dead as the world thinks. He has his constant readers still, but
they talk little of their poet. "They give Heaven thanks, and make no
boast of it." These are they to whom the "unruly wills and affections"
of their kind are eternally interesting, even when studied through the
medium of a uniform and monotonous metre.

A Trowbridge friend wrote to Crabbe's son, after his father's death,
"When I called on him, soon after his arrival, I remarked that his house
and garden were pleasant and secluded: he replied that he preferred
walking in the streets, and observing the faces of the passers-by, to
the finest natural scenes." There is a poignant line in _Maud_, where
the distracted lover dwells on "the faces that one meets." It was not by
the "sweet records, promises as sweet," that these two observers of life
were impressed, but rather by vicious records and hopeless outlooks. It
was such countenances that Crabbe looked for, and speculated on, for in
such, he found food for that pity and terror he most loved to awaken.
The starting-point of Crabbe's desire to portray village-life truly was
a certain indignation he felt at the then still-surviving conventions of
the Pastoral Poets. We have lately watched, in the literature of our own
day, a somewhat similar reaction against sentimental pictures of
country-life. The feebler members of a family of novelists, which some
one wittily labelled as the "kail-yard school," so irritated a young
Scottish journalist, the late Mr. George Douglas, that he resolved to
provide what he conceived might be a useful corrective for the public
mind. To counteract the half-truths of the opposite school, he wrote a
tale of singular power and promise, _The House with the Green
Shutters_. Like all reactions, it erred in the violence of its
colouring. If intended as a true picture of the normal state of a small
Scottish provincial town and its society, it may have been as false in
its own direction as the kail-yarders had been in theirs. But for Mr.
Douglas's untimely death - a real loss to literature - he would doubtless
have shown in future fictions that the pendulum had ceased to swing, and
would have given us more artistic, because completer, pictures of human
life. With Crabbe the force of his primal bias never ceased to act until
his life's end. The leaven of protest against the sentimentalists never
quite worked itself out in him, although, no doubt, in some of the later
tales and portrayals of character, the sun was oftener allowed to shine
out from behind the clouds

We must not forget this when we are inclined to accept without question
Byron's famous eulogium. A poet is not the "best" painter of Nature,
merely because he chooses one aspect of human character and human
fortunes rather than another. If he must not conceal the sterner side,
equally is he bound to remember the sunnier and more serene. If a poet
is to deal justly with the life of the rich or poor, he must take into
fullest account, and give equal prominence to, the homes where happiness
abides. He must remember that though there is a skeleton in every
cupboard, it must not be dragged out for a purpose, nor treated as if it
were the sole inhabitant. He must deal with the happinesses of life and
not only with its miseries; with its harmonies and not only its
dislocations. He must remember the thousand homes in which is to be
found the quiet and faithful discharge of duty, inspired at once and
illumined by the family affections, and not forget that in such as these
the strength of a country lies. Crabbe is often spoken of as our first
great realist in the poetry and fiction of the last century, and the
word is often used as if it meant chiefly plain-speaking as to the
sordid aspects of life. But he is the truest realist who does not
suppress any side of that which may be seen, if looked for. Although
Murillo threw into fullest relief the grimy feet of his beggar-boys
which so offended Mr. Ruskin, still what eternally attracts us to his
canvas is not the soiled feet but the "sweet boy-faces" that "laugh amid
the Seville grapes." It was because Crabbe too often laid greater stress
on the ugliness than on the beauty of things, that he fails to that
extent to be the full and adequate painter and poet of humble life.

He was a dispeller of many illusions. He could not give us the joy that
Goldsmith, Cowper, and William Barnes have given, but he discharged a
function no less valuable than theirs, and with an individuality that
has given him a high and enduring place in the poetry of the nineteenth

There can be no question that within the last twenty or thirty years
there has been a marked revival of interest in the poetry of Crabbe. To
the influence of Edward FitzGerald's fascinating personality this
revival may be partly, but is not wholly, due. It may be of the nature
of a reaction against certain canons of taste too long blindly followed.
It may be that, like the Queen in _Hamlet_, we are beginning to crave
for "more matter and less art"; or that, like the Lady of Shalott, we
are growing "half-sick of shadows," and long for a closer touch with
the real joys and sorrows of common people. Whatever be the cause, there
can be no reason to regret the fact, or to doubt that in these days of
"art for art's sake," the influence of Crabbe's verse is at once of a
bracing and a sobering kind.



_Aaron the Gipsy_
_Adventures of Richard, The_
_Allegro_ (Milton)
Allington (Lincolnshire)
_Ancient Mansion, The_
_Annals of the Parish, The_ (Galt)
_Annual Register, The_
Austen, Jane
Autobiography, Crabbe's


Baillie, Agnes
- Joanna
Barnes, William
Barrie, J.M.
Barton, Bernard,
_Basket-Woman, The_ (Edgeworth)
Belvoir Castle
Biography, Crabbe's
_Borough, The_
Bowles, William Lisle
_Boys at School_
Bunbury, Sir Henry
Butler, Joseph


Campbell, Thomas
_Candidate, The_
_Canterbury Tales, The_ (Chaucer)
_Castle Rackrent_ (Edgeworth)
Celtic Club
_Childe Harold_ (Byron)
Church, English
Churchill (poet)
_Clarissa Harlowe_ (Richardson)
Clergy, non-residence of
sketches of
_Confessions of an Opium Eater_, (De Quincey)
_Confidant, The_
Courthope, Mr.
Crabbe, George, birth and family
history of;
early literary bent;
school days;
apprenticed to a surgeon;
life at Woodbridge;
falls in love;
first efforts in verse;
practises as a surgeon;
dangerous illness;
engagement to Miss Elmy;
seeks his fortune in London;
poverty in London;
keeps a diary;
unsuccessful attempts to sell his poems;
appeals to Edmund Burke;
Burke's help and patronage;
invited to Burke's country seat;
publishes _The Library_;
friendship with Burke;
second letter to Burke;
meetings with prominent men;
takes Holy Orders;
returns to Aldeburgh as curate;
coldly received by his fellow-townsmen;
becomes domestic chaplain to the Duke of Rutland;
life at Belvoir Castle;
_The Village_;
receives LL.B. degree;
presented to two livings;
curate of Stathern;
his children;
village traditions concerning him;
_The Newspaper_;
life at Stathern;
moves to Muston;
revisits his native place;
goes to Parham;
lives at Great Glemham Hall;
moves to Rendham;
use of opium;
returns to Muston;
publishes a new volume of poems;
_The Parish Register_;
his great popularity;
friendship with Sir Walter Scott;
_The Borough_;
visit to London;
returns to Muston;
death of his wife;
serious illness;
rector of Trowbridge;
departure from Muston;
intercourse with literary men in London;
a member of the "Literary Society";
receives £3000 from John Murray;
returns to Trowbridge;
_Tales of the Hall_;
visits Scott in Edinburgh;
_Posthumous Poems_;
last years at Trowbridge;
illness and death;
his religious temperament;
rusticity and lack of polish;
indifference to art;
want of tact;
love of female society;
acquaintance and sympathy with the poor;
his preaching;
inequality of his work;
influence of preceding poets;
his reputation at its height;
knowledge of botany;
his descriptions of nature;
first great realist in verse;
fondness for verbal antithesis;
his epigrams;
defective _technique_;
his influence on subsequent novelists;
parodies of his style;
his sense of humour;
defects of his poetry;
his retentive memory;
his characters drawn from life;
his treatment of peasant life;
power of analysing character;
choice of sordid and gloomy subjects;
his lyric verses;
Edward FitzGerald's great admiration of his poetry;
contemporary and other estimates of his work;
revival of interest in him;
Crabbe, George (father of the poet)
- Mrs. (mother)
- George (son)
- Mrs. (wife)
- John
- Edmund
- William
- (brother)
- George (grandson)
- Caroline
_Critical Review_


_Daffodils, The_ (Wordsworth)
_Dejection, Ode to_ (Coleridge)
_Delay has Danger_
De Quincey
_Deserted Village, The_ (Goldsmith)
Diary, Crabbe's
Dodsley (publisher)
_Dora_ (Tennyson)
Douglas, George
_Dunciad_ (Pope)


Edgeworth, Miss
_Edinburgh Annual Register_
_Edinburgh Review_
_Edward Shore_
_Elegant Extracts_ (Vicesimus Knox)
_Elegy in a Country Churchyard,_ (Gray)
Elmy, Miss Sarah. _See_ Crabbe, Mrs. (wife)
_English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_ (Byron)
_Enoch Arden_ (Tennyson)
Erskine, William
_Essay on Man_ (Pope)
_Excursion, The_ (Wordsworth)


Felon, the condemned, Description of
Finden (artist)
FitzGerald, Edward
- William Thomas
Fox, Charles James
- Henry Richard. _See_ Holland, Lord
_Frank Courtship, The_
Fund, The Literary


_Gentleman Farmer, The_
_Gentleman's Magazine_
George IV
Glynn, Dr. Robert
Gordon, Lord George
Gore, Dr. (Bishop of Worcester)


_Hall of Justice, The_
_Hanmer, Sir Thomas Memoir and Correspondence of_
Hatchard, John (publisher)
_Haunted House, The_ (Hood)
_Heart of Midlothian, The_ (Scott)
_Henry V_ (Shakespeare)
"Hetty Sorrel"
Hoare family
Holland, Lord
_House with the Green Shutters, The_ (George Douglas)
Huchon, M. (University of Nancy)
_Human Life_ (Rogers)
Huntingdon, William
Hutton, Rev. W.H.


_In Memoriam_ (Tennyson)
"Isaac Ashford"


Jeffrey _(Edinburgh Review)_
Johnson, Samuel
Jordan, Mrs. (actress)


"Kailyard school"
Kemble, Fanny
- John


_Lady Barbara_
_Lady of the Lake, The_ (Scott)
Lamb, Charles
_Lamia and other Poems_ (Keats)
Lansdowne, Third Marquis of
Langborne (painter)
_Lay of the Last Minstrel, The_ (Scott)
_Lazy Lawrence_ (Edgeworth)
Leadbeater, Mrs.
_Library, The_
Literary Society, The
Longmans (publisher)
Lothian, Lord
_Lover's Journey, The_
_Lyrical Ballads_ (Wordsworth)


_Maid's Story, The_
Manners, Lord Robert
_Maud_ (Tennyson)
Memoir of Crabbe. _See_ Biography
_Miller's daughter The_ (Tennyson)
Minerva Press, The
Mitford, Miss
Montgomery, Robert
_Monthly Review_
Moore, Thomas
Murray, John (publisher)
Muston (Leicestershire)


_New Monthly_
Newman, Cardinal
_Newspaper, The_
_Nineteenth Century_
North, Mr. Dudley
- Lord
Novels in Crabbe's day


Omar Khayyam
Opium eating
_Our Village_ (Miss Mitford)


_Pains of Sleep_ (Coleridge)
_Parents' Assistant, The_ (Edgeworth)
_Parish Register, The_
_Parting Hour, The_
_Patron, The_
Phillips (artist)
"Phoebe Dawson"
_Poacher, The_ (Scott)
Poor, State relief of
_Posthumous Poems_
Pretyman, Bishop
Priest, Description of Parish
_Progress of Error_ (Cowper)


_Quarterly Review_
Queensberry, Duke of


Reform Bill Riots
_Rejected Addresses_ (Smith)
Reynolds, Sir Joshua
Richardson (novelist)
Ridout, Miss Charlotte
Riots, Gordon; Bristol
Rogers, Samuel
_Rokeby_ (Scott)
Romilly, Sir Samuel
Rutland, Duke of


Scott, Sir Walter
_Seasons, The_ (Thomson)
Sellers, Miss Edith
Shackleton, Edward
Shelburne, Lord, lines to
Siddons, Mrs.
_Simple Susan_ (Edgeworth)
_Sir Eustace Grey_
_Sisters The_
Smith, James (_Rejected, Addresses_)
_Smugglers and Poachers_
_Solitary Reaper, The_ (Wordsworth)
_Spirit of the Age_. (Hazlitt)
Stanfield, Clark on
Stathern (Leictershire)
Stephen, Sir Leslie
Stothard (painter)
Sweffling (Suffolk)


_Table Talk_ (Cowper)
_Tales of the Hall_
- Frederick
Thurlow, Lord
Tomlins, Dr. _See_ Pretyman
Tovell family
_Traveller, The_ (Goldsmith)
Trollope, Anthony
Turner, Rev. Richard


_Village, The_


Walker, Frederick (artist)
Watson, Bishop
_Waverley_ (Scott)
Wesleyan Movement
Westall, Richard (artist)
Whitefield Revival
_Widow's Tale, The_
_Wife's Trial, The_ (Lamb)
_World of Dreams, The_



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Online LibraryAlfred AingerEnglish Men of Letters: Crabbe → online text (page 14 of 14)