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besides to you at Belvoir. If you had received these two
short letters you could not want an invitation to a place
where every one considers himself as infinitely honoured and
pleased by your presence. Mrs. Burke desires her best
compliments, and trusts that you will not let the holidays
pass over without a visit from you I have got the poem;
but I have not yet opened it. I don't like the unhappy
language you use about these matters. You do not easily
please such a judgment as your own - that is natural; but
where you are difficult every one else will be charmed. I am,
my dear sir, ever most affectionately yours,


The "unhappy language" seems to point to Crabbe having expressed some
diffidence or forebodings concerning his new venture. Yet Crabbe had
less to fear on this head than with most of his early poems. _The
Village_ had been schemed and composed in parts before Crabbe knew
Burke. One passage in it indeed, as we have seen, had first convinced
Burke that the writer was a poet. And in the interval that followed the
poem had been completed and matured with a care that Crabbe seldom
afterwards bestowed upon his productions. Burke himself had suggested
and criticised much during its progress, and the manuscript had further
been submitted through Sir Joshua Reynolds to Johnson, who not only
revised it in detail but re-wrote half a dozen of the opening lines.
Johnson's opinion of the poem was conveyed to Reynolds in the following
letter, and here at last we get a date: -

_March_ 4, 1783.

"Sir, - I have sent you back Mr. Crabbe's poem, which I
read with great delight. It is original, vigorous, and elegant.
The alterations which I have made I do not require him to
adopt; for my lines are perhaps not often better than his
own: but he may take mine and his own together, and
perhaps between them produce something better than either.
He is not to think his copy wantonly defaced: a wet sponge
will wash all the red lines away and leave the pages clean.
His dedication will be least liked: it were better to contract
it into a short, sprightly address. I do not doubt of Mr.
Crabbe's success. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,


Boswell's comment on this incident is as follows: - "The sentiments of
Mr. Crabbe's admirable poem as to the false notions of rustic happiness
and rustic virtue were quite congenial with Dr. Johnson's own: and he
took the trouble not only to suggest slight corrections and variations,
but to furnish some lines when he thought he could give the writer's
meaning better than in the words of the manuscript." Boswell went on to
observe that "the aid given by Johnson to the poem, as to _The
Traveller_ and _Deserted Village_ of Goldsmith, were so small as by no
means to impair the distinguished merit of the author." There were
unfriendly critics, however, in Crabbe's native county who professed to
think otherwise, and "whispered that the manuscript had been so
_cobbled_ by Burke and Johnson that its author did not know it again
when returned to him." On which Crabbe's son rejoins that "if these kind
persons survived to read _The Parish Register_ their amiable conjectures
must have received a sufficient rebuke."

This confident retort is not wholly just. There can be no doubt that
some special mannerisms and defects of Crabbe's later style had been
kept in check by the wise revision of his friends. And again, when after
more than twenty years Crabbe produced _The Parish Register_, that poem,
as we shall see, had received from Charles James Fox something of the
same friendly revision and suggestion as _The Village_ had received from
Burke and Johnson.

_The Village_, in quarto, published by J. Dodsley, Pall Mall, appeared
in May 1783, and at once attracted attention by novel qualities. Among
these was the bold realism of the village-life described, and the minute
painting of the scenery among which it was led. Cowper had published his
first volume a year before, but thus far it had failed to excite general
interest, and had met with no sale. Burns had as yet published nothing.
But two poetic masterpieces, dealing with the joys and sorrows of
village folk, were fresh in Englishmen's memory. One was _The Elegy in a
Country Churchyard_, the other was _The Deserted Village_. Both had left
a deep impression upon their readers - and with reason - for two poems,
more certain of immortality, because certain of giving a pleasure that
cannot grow old-fashioned, do not exist in our literature. Each indeed
marked an advance upon all that English descriptive or didactic poets
had thus far contributed towards making humble life and rural scenery
attractive - unless we except the _Allegro_ of Milton and some passages
in Thomson's _Seasons_. Nor was it merely the consummate workmanship of
Gray and Goldsmith that had made their popularity. The genuineness of
the pathos in the two poems was beyond suspicion, although with Gray it
was blended with a melancholy that was native to himself. Although
their authors had not been brought into close personal relations with
the joys and sorrows dealt with, there was nothing of sentiment, in any
unworthy sense, in either poet's treatment of his theme. But the result
of their studies of humble village life was to produce something quite
distinct from the treatment of the realist. What they saw and remembered
had passed through the transfiguring medium of a poet's imagination
before it reached the reader. The finished product, like the honey of
the bee, was due to the poet as well as to the flower from which he had
derived the raw material.

It seems to have been generally assumed when Crabbe's _Village_
appeared, that it was of the nature of a rejoinder to Goldsmith's poem,
and the fact that Crabbe quotes a line from _The Deserted Village_,
"Passing rich on forty pounds a year," in his own description of the
village parson, might seem to confirm that impression. But the opening
lines of _The Village_ point to a different origin. It was rather during
those early years when George's father read aloud to his family the
pastorals of the so-called Augustan age of English poetry, that the boy
was first struck with the unreality and consequent worthlessness of the
conventional pictures of rural life. And in the opening lines of _The
Village_ he boldly challenges the judgment of his readers on this head.
The "pleasant land" of the pastoral poets was one of which George
Crabbe, not unjustly, "thought scorn."

"The village life, and every care that reigns
O'er youthful peasants and declining swains,
What labour yields, and what, that labour past,
Age, in its hour of languor, finds at last;
What form the real picture of the poor,
Demand a song - the Muse can give no more.
Fled are those times when in harmonious strains
The rustic poet praised his native plains:
No shepherds now, in smooth alternate verse,
Their country's beauty or their nymphs' rehearse;
Yet still for these we frame the tender strain,
Still in our lays fond Corydons complain,
And shepherds' boys their amorous pains reveal,
The only pains, alas! they never feel."

At this point follow the six lines which Johnson had substituted for the
author's. Crabbe had written: -

"In fairer scenes, where peaceful pleasures spring,
Tityrus, the pride of Mantuan swains, might sing.
But charmed by him, or smitten with his views,
Shall modern poets court the Mantuan muse?
From Truth and Nature shall we widely stray,
Where Fancy leads, or Virgil led the way?"

Johnson substituted the following, and Crabbe accepted the revised
version: -

"On Mincio's banks, in Caesar's bounteous reign,
If Tityrus found the Golden Age again,
Must sleepy bards the flattering dream prolong,
Mechanic echoes of the Mantuan song?
From Truth and Nature shall we widely stray,
Where Virgil, not where Fancy, leads the way?"

The first four lines of Johnson are beyond question an improvement, and
it is worth remark in passing how in the fourth line he has anticipated
Cowper's "made poetry a mere mechanic art."

But in the concluding couplet, Crabbe's meaning seems to lose in
clearness through the change. Crabbe intended to ask whether it was safe
to desert truth and nature for one's own self-pleasing fancies, even
though Virgil had set the example. Johnson's version seems to obscure
rather than to make clearer this interpretation. Crabbe, after this
protest against the conventional, which, if unreal at the outset, had
become a thousand times more wearisome by repetition, passes on to a
daring presentation of real life lived among all the squalor of actual
poverty, not unskilfully interspersed with descriptions equally faithful
of the barren coast-scenery among which he had been brought up. It has
been already remarked how Crabbe's eye for rural nature had been
quickened and made more exact by his studies in botany. There was little
in the poetry then popular that reproduced an actual scene as perfectly
as do the following lines: -

"Lo! where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er,
Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor;
From thence a length of burning sand appears,
Where the thin harvest waves its withered ears;
Rank weeds, that every art and care defy,
Reign o'er the land, and rob the blighted rye:
There thistles stretch their prickly arms afar,
And to the ragged infant threaten war;
There poppies nodding, mock the hope of toil;
There the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil;
Hardy and high above the slender sheaf
The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf;
O'er the young shoot the charlock throws a shade,
And clasping tares cling round the sickly blade;
With mingled tints the rocky coasts abound,
And a sad splendour vainly shines around."

Crabbe here perceives the value, as Goldsmith had done before him, of
village scenery as a background to his picture of village life. It
suited Goldsmith's purpose to describe the ideal rural community, happy,
prosperous, and innocent, as contrast with that depopulation of
villages and corruption of peasant life which he predicted from the
growing luxury and selfishness of the rich. But notwithstanding the
title of the poem, it is Auburn in its pristine condition that remains
in our memories. The dominant thought expressed is the virtue and the
happiness that belong by nature to village life. Crabbe saw that this
was no less idyllic and unreal, or at least incomplete, than the
pictures of shepherd life presented in the faded copies of Theocritus
and Virgil that had so long satisfied the English readers of poetry.
There was no unreality in Goldsmith's design. They were not fictitious
and "lucrative" tears that he shed. For his object was to portray an
English rural village in its ideality - rural loveliness - enshrining
rural innocence and joy - and to show how man's vices, invading it from
the outside, might bring all to ruin. Crabbe's purpose was different. He
aimed to awaken pity and sympathy for rural sins and sorrows with which
he had himself been in closest touch, and which sprang from causes
always in operation within the heart of the community itself, and not to
be attributed to the insidious attacks from without. Goldsmith, for
example, drew an immortal picture of the village pastor, closely
modelled upon Chaucer's "poor parson of a town," his piety, humility,
and never failing goodness to his flock. -

"Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride,
And even his failings leaned to virtue's side;
But in his duty prompt at every call
He watched and wept; he prayed and felt for all.
And as a bird each fond endearment tries
To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies,
He tried each art, reproved each dull delay,
Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way."

Crabbe remembered a different type of parish priest in his boyhood, and
this is how he introduces him. He has been describing, with an
unmitigated realism, the village poorhouse, in all its squalor and
dilapidation: -

"There children dwell who know no parents' care:
Parents, who know no children's love, dwell there.
Heart-broken matrons on their joyless bed,
Forsaken wives, and mothers never wed"

The dying pauper needs some spiritual consolation ere he passes into the
unseen world,

"But ere his death some pious doubts arise,
Some simple fears which bold, bad men despise;
Fain would he ask the parish priest to prove
His title certain to the joys above:
For this he sends the murmuring nurse, who calls
The holy stranger to these dismal walls;
And doth not he, the pious man, appear,
He, 'passing rich with forty pounds a year'?
Ah! no: a shepherd of a different stock.
And far unlike him, feeds this little flock:
A jovial youth, who thinks his Sunday's task
As much as God or man can fairly ask;
The rest he gives to loves and labours light,
To fields the morning, and to feasts the night;
None better skilled the noisy pack to guide,
To urge their chase, to cheer them, or to chide;
A sportsman keen, he shoots through half the day,
And, skilled at whist, devotes the night to play:
Then, while such honours bloom around his head,
Shall he sit sadly by the sick man's bed,
To raise the hope he feels not, or with zeal
To combat fears that e'en the pious feel?"

Crabbe's son, after his father's death, cited in a note on
these lines what he hold to be a parallel passage from Cowper's
_Progress of Error_, beginning: -

"Oh, laugh or mourn with me the rueful jest,
A cassocked huntsman, and a fiddling priest."

Cowper's first volume, containing _Table-Talk_ and its companion
satires, appeared some months before Crabbe's _Village_. The
shortcomings of the clergy are a favourite topic with him, and a varied
gallery of the existing types of clerical inefficiency may be formed
from his pages. Many of Cowper's strictures were amply justified by the
condition of the English Church. But Cowper's method is not Crabbe's.
The note of the satirist is seldom absent, blended at times with just a
suspicion of that of the Pharisee. The humorist and the Puritan contend
for predominance in the breast of this polished gentleman and scholar.
Cowper's friend, Newton, in the Preface he wrote for his first volume,
claimed for the poet that his satire was "benevolent." But it was not
always discriminating or just. The satirist's keen love of antithesis
often weakens the moral virtue of Cowper's strictures. In this earliest
volume anger was more conspicuous than sorrow, and contempt perhaps more
obvious than either. The callousness of public opinion on many subjects
needed other medicine than this. Hence was it perhaps that Cowper's
volume, which appeared in May 1782, failed to awaken interest. Crabbe's
_Village_ appeared just a year later (it had been completed a year or
two earlier), and at once made its mark. "It was praised," writes his
son, "in the leading journals; the sale was rapid and extensive; and my
father's reputation was by universal consent greatly raised, and
permanently established, by this poem," The number of anonymous letters
it brought the author, some of gratitude, and some of resentment (for it
had laid its finger on many sores in the body-politic), showed how
deeply his touch had been felt. Further publicity for the poem was
obtained by Burke, who inserted the description of the Parish Workhouse
and the Village Apothecary in _The Annual Register,_ which he
controlled. The same pieces were included a few years later by Vicesimus
Knox in that excellent Miscellany _Elegant Extracts_. And Crabbe was to
learn in later life from Walter Scott how, when a youth of eighteen,
spending a snowy winter in a lonely country-house, he fell in with the
volume of _The Annual Register_ containing the passages from _The
Village;_ how deeply they had sunk into his heart; and that (writing
then to Crabbe in the year 1809) he could repeat them still from memory.

Edmund Burke's friend, Edward Shackleton, meeting Crabbe at Burke's
house soon after the publication of the poem, paid him an elegant
tribute. Goldsmith's, he said, would now be the "deserted" village.
Crabbe modestly disclaimed the compliment, and assuredly with reason
Goldsmith's delightful poem will never be deserted. For it is no loss
good and wise to dwell on village life as it might be, than to reflect
on what it has suffered from man's inhumanity to man. What made Crabbe a
now force in English poetry, was that in his verse Pity appears, after a
long oblivion, as the true antidote to Sentimentalism. The reader is not
put off with pretty imaginings, but is led up to the object which the
poet would show him, and made to feel its horror. If Crabbe is our first
great realist in verse, he uses his realism in the cause of a true
humanity. _Facit indignatio versum._


[Footnote 1: I cannot deny myself the pleasure of here acknowledging my
indebtedness to a French scholar, M. Huchon of the University of Nancy.
M. Huchon is himself engaged upon a study of the Life and Poetry of
Crabbe, and in the course of a conversation with me in London, first
called my attention to the volume containing this letter. I agree with
him in thinking that no previous biographer of Crabbe has been aware of
its existence.]




"The sudden popularity of _The Village_" writes Crabbe's son and
biographer, "must have produced, after the numberless slights and
disappointments already mentioned, and even after the tolerable success
of _The Library_, about as strong a revulsion in my father's mind as a
ducal chaplaincy in his circumstances; but there was no change in his
temper or manners. The successful author continued as modest as the
rejected candidate for publication had been patient and long-suffering."
The biographer might have remarked as no less strange that the success
of _The Village_ failed, for the moment at least, to convince Crabbe
where his true strength lay. When he again published a poem, two years
later, he reverted to the old Popian topics and methods in a by no means
successful didactic satire on newspapers. Meantime the occasional visits
of the Duke of Rutland and his family to London brought the chaplain
again in touch with the Burkes and the friends he had first made through
them, notably with Sir Joshua Reynolds. He was also able to visit the
theatre occasionally, and fell under the spell, not only of Mrs.
Siddons, but of Mrs. Jordan (in the character of Sir Harry Wildair). It
was now decided that as a nobleman's chaplain it would be well for him
to have a university degree, and to this end his name was entered on the
boards of Trinity College, Cambridge, through the good offices of Bishop
Watson of Llandaff, with a view to his obtaining a degree without
residence. This was in 1783, but almost immediately afterwards he
received an LL.B. degree from the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was
obtained for Crabbe in order that he might hold two small livings in
Dorsetshire, Frome St. Quintin and Evershot, to which he had just been
presented by Thurlow. It was on this occasion that the Chancellor made
his memorable comparison of Crabbe to Parson Adams, no doubt pointing to
a certain rusticity, and possibly provincial accent, from which Crabbe
seems never to have been wholly free. This promotion seems to have
interfered very little with Crabbe's residence at Belvoir or in London.
A curate was doubtless placed in one or other of the parsonage-houses in
Dorsetshire at such modest stipend as was then usual - often not more
than thirty pounds a year - and the rector would content himself with a
periodical flying visit to receive tithe, or inquire into any parish
grievances that may have reached his ear. As incidents of this kind will
be not infrequent during the twenty years that follow in Crabbe's
clerical career, it may be well to intimate at once that no peculiar
blame attaches to him in the matter. He but "partook of the frailty of
his times." During these latter years of the eighteenth century, as for
long before and after, pluralism in the Church was rather the rule than
the exception, and in consequence non-residence was recognised as
inevitable, and hardly matter for comment. The two Dorsetshire livings
were of small value, and as Crabbe was now looking forward to his
marriage with the faithful Miss Elmy, he could not have afforded to
reside. He may not, however, have thought it politic to decline the
first preferment offered by so important a dispenser of patronage as the
Lord Chancellor.

Events, however, were at hand, which helped to determine Crabbe's
immediate future. Early in 1784 the Duke of Rutland became Lord
Lieutenant of Ireland. The appointment had been made some time before,
and it had been decided that Crabbe was not to be on the Castle staff.
His son expresses no surprise at this decision, and makes of it no
grievance. The duke and the chaplain parted excellent friends. Crabbe
and his wife were to remain at Belvoir as long as it suited their
convenience, and the duke undertook that he would not forget him as
regarded future preferment. On the strength of these offers, Crabbe and
Miss Elmy wore married in December 1783, in the parish church of
Beccles, where Miss Elmy's mother resided, and a few weeks later took up
their abode in the rooms assigned them at Belvoir Castle.

As Miss Elmy had lived for many years with her uncle and aunt, Mr. and
Mrs. John Tovell, at Parham, and moreover as this rural inland village
played a considerable part in the development of Crabbe's poetical
faculty, it may be well to quote his son's graphic account of the
domestic circumstances of Miss Elmy's relatives. Mr. Tovell was, like
Mr. Hathaway, "a substantial yeoman," for he owned an estate of some
eight hundred a year, to some share of which, as the Tovells had lost
their only child, Miss Elmy would certainly in due course succeed. The
Tovells' house at Parham, which has been long ago pulled down, and
rebuilt as Paritam Lodge, on very different lines, was of ample size,
with its moat, so common a feature of the homestead in the eastern
counties, "rookery, dove-cot, and fish-ponds"; but the surroundings were
those of the ordinary farmhouse, for Mr. Tovell himself cultivated part
of his estate.

"The drawing-room, a corresponding dining-parlour, and a handsome
sleeping apartment upstairs, were all _tabooed_ ground, and made use of
on great and solemn occasions only - such as rent-days, and an occasional
visit with which Mr. Tovell was honoured by a neighbouring peer. At all
other times the family and their visitors lived entirely in the
old-fashioned kitchen along with the servants. My great-uncle occupied
an armchair, or, in attacks of gout, a couch on one side of a large open
chimney.... At a very early hour in the morning the alarum called the
maids, and their mistress also; and if the former were tardy, a louder
alarum, and more formidable, was heard chiding their delay - not that
scolding was peculiar to any occasion; it regularly ran on through all
the day, like bells on harness, inspiriting the work, whether it were
done well or ill." In the annotated volume of the son's memoir which
belonged to Edward FitzGerald, the writer added the following detail as
to his great-aunt's temper and methods: - "A wench whom Mrs. Tovell had
pursued with something weightier than invective - a ladle, I
think - whimpered out 'If an angel from Hiv'n were to come mawther'"
(Suffolk for _girl_) "'to missus, she wouldn't give no satisfaction.'"

George Crabbe the younger, who gives this graphic account of the
_ménage_ at Parham, was naturally anxious to claim for his mother, who
so long formed one of this queer household, a degree of refinement
superior to that of her surroundings. After describing the daily
dinner-party in the kitchen - master, mistress, servants, with an
occasional "travelling rat-catcher or tinker" - he skilfully points out
that his mother's feelings must have resembled those of the
boarding-school miss in his father's "Widow's Tale" when subjected to a
like experience: -

"But when the men beside their station took,
The maidens with them, and with these the cook;
When one huge wooden bowl before them stood,
Filled with huge balls of farinaceous food;
With bacon, mass saline! where never lean

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