The passage referred to is the once-famous description of the condemned Felon in the "Letter" on Prisons. Macaulay had, as we know, his "heightened way of putting things," but the narrative which he cites, as foil to one of Robert Montgomery's borrowings, deserves the praise. It shows Crabbe's descriptive power at its best, and his rare power and insight into the workings of the heart and mind. He has to trace the sequence of thoughts and feelings in the condemned criminal during the days between his sentence and its execution; the dreams of happier days that haunt his pillow—days when he wandered with his sweetheart or his sister through their village meadows:—
"Yes! all are with him now, and all the while Life's early prospects and his Fanny's smile. Then come his sister and his village friend, And he will now the sweetest moments spend Life has to yield,—No! never will he find Again on earth such pleasure in his mind He goes through shrubby walks these friends among, Love in their looks and honour on the tongue. Nay, there's a charm beyond what nature shows, The bloom is softer and more sweetly glows; Pierced by no crime and urged by no desire For more than true and honest hearts require, They feel the calm delight, and thus proceed Through the green lane,—then linger in the mead,— Stray o'er the heath in all its purple bloom,— And pluck the blossom where the wild bees hum; Then through the broomy bound with ease they pass, And press the sandy sheep-walk's slender grass, Whore dwarfish flowers among the grass are spread, And the lamb browses by the linnet's bed; Then 'cross the bounding brook they make their way O'er its rough bridge—'and there behold the bay!— The ocean smiling to the fervid sun— The waves that faintly fall and slowly run— The ships at distance and the boats at hand, And now they walk upon the sea-side sand, Counting the number, and what kind they be, Ships softly sinking in the sleepy sea: Now arm in arm, now parted, they behold The glittering waters on the shingles rolled; The timid girls, half dreading their design, Dip the small foot in the retarded brine, And search for crimson weeds, which spreading flow, Or lie like pictures on the sand below: With all those bright red pebbles, that the sun, Through the small waves so softly shines upon; And those live lucid jellies which the eye Delights to trace as they swim glittering by: Pearl-shells and rubied star-fish they admire, And will arrange above the parlour fire,— Tokens of bliss!—'Oh! horrible! a wave Roars as it rises—save me, Edward! save!' She cries:—Alas! the watchman on his way Calls and lets in—truth, terror, and the day!"
Allowing for a certain melodramatic climax here led up to, we cannot deny the impressiveness of this picture—the first-hand quality of its observation, and an eye for beauty, which his critics are rarely disposed to allow to Crabbe. A narrative of equal pathos, and once equally celebrated, is that of the village-girl who receives back her sailor-lover from his last voyage, only to watch over his dying hours. It is in an earlier section (No. ii. The Church), beginning:
"Yes! there are real mourners—I have seen A fair sad girl, mild, suffering, and serene,"
too long to quote in full, and, as with Crabbe's method generally, not admitting of being fairly represented by extracts. Then there are sketches of character in quite a different vein, such as the vicar, evidently drawn from life. He is the good easy man, popular with the ladies for a kind of fade complimentary style in which he excels; the man of "mild benevolence," strongly opposed to every thing new:
"Habit with him was all the test of truth: 'It must be right: I've done it from my youth,' Questions he answered in as brief a way: 'It must be wrong—it was of yesterday.'"
Feeble good-nature, and selfish unwillingness to disturb any existing habits or conventions, make up his character:
"In him his flock found nothing to condemn; Him sectaries liked—he never troubled them: No trifles failed his yielding mind to please, And all his passions sunk in early ease; Nor one so old has left this world of sin, More like the being that he entered in."
An excellent companion sketch to that of the dilettante vicar is provided in that of the poor curate—the scholar, gentleman, and devout Christian, struggling against abject poverty to support his large family. The picture drawn by Crabbe has a separate and interesting origin. A year before the appearance of The Borough, one of the managers of the Literary Fund, an institution then of some twenty years' standing, and as yet without its charter, applied to Crabbe for a copy of verses that might be appropriate for recitation at the annual dinner of the Society, held at the Freemasons' Tavern. It was the custom of the society to admit such literary diversions as part of the entertainment. The notorious William Thomas Fitzgerald had been for many years the regular contributor of the poem, and his efforts on the occasion are remembered, if only through the opening couplet of Byron's English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, where Fitzgerald is gibbeted as the Codrus of Juvenal's satire:
"Still must I hear? shall hoarse Fitzgerald bawl His creaking couplets in a Tavern-Hall?"
His poem for this year, 1809, is printed at length in the Gentleman's Magazine for April—and also Crabbe's, recited at the same dinner. Crabbe seems to have composed it for the occasion, but with the intention of ultimately weaving it into the poem on which he was then engaged. A paragraph prefixed to the lines also shows that Crabbe had a further object in view. "The Founder of this Society having intimated a hope that, on a plan which he has already communicated to his particular Friends, its Funds may be sufficiently ample to afford assistance and relief to learned officiating Clergymen in distress, though they may not have actually commenced Authors—the Author, in allusion to this hope, has introduced into a Poem which he is preparing for the Press the following character of a learned Divine in distress."
Crabbe's lines bearing on the proposed scheme (which seems for a time at least to have been adopted by the administrators of the Fund) were left standing when The Borough was published, with, an explanatory note. They are effective for their purpose, the pathos of them is genuine, and worthy of attention even in these latter days of the "Queen Victoria Clergy Fund." The speaker is the curate himself:
"Long may these founts of Charity remain, And never shrink, but to be filled again; True! to the Author they are now confined, To him who gave the treasure of his mind, His time, his health,—and thankless found mankind: But there is hope that from these founts may flow A side-way stream, and equal good bestow; Good that may reach us, whom the day's distress Keeps from the fame and perils of the Press; Whom Study beckons from the Ills of Life, And they from Study; melancholy strife! Who then can say, but bounty now so free, And so diffused, may find its way to me? Yes! I may see my decent table yet Cheered with the meal that adds not to my debt; May talk of those to whom so much we owe, And guess their names whom yet we may not know; Blest, we shall say, are those who thus can give, And next, who thus upon the bounty live; Then shall I close with thanks my humble meal, And feel so well—Oh! God! how shall I feel!"
Crabbe is known to most readers to-day by the delightful parody of his style in the Rejected Addresses, which appeared in the autumn of 1812, and it was certainly on The Borough that James Smith based his imitation. We all remember the incident of Pat Jennings's adventure in the gallery of the theatre. The manner of the narrative is borrowed from Crabbe's lighter and more colloquial style. Every little foible of the poet, when in this vein, is copied with great skill. The superfluity of information, as in the case of—
"John Richard William Alexander Dwyer,"
whose only place in the narrative is that he preceded Pat Jennings's father in the situation as
"Footman to Justinian Stubbs, Esquire";
or again in the detail that,
"Emanuel Jennings brought his youngest boy Up as a corn-cutter—a safe employ"
(a perfect Crabbian couplet), is imitated throughout, Crabbe's habit of frequent verbal antithesis, and even of something like punning, is exactly caught in such a couplet as:
"Big-worded bullies who by quarrels live— Who give the lie, and tell the lie they give."
Much of the parody, no doubt, exhibits the fanciful humour of the brothers Smith, rather than of Crabbe, as is the case with many parodies. Of course there are couplets here and there in Crabbe's narratives which justify the burlesque. We have:
"What is the truth? Old Jacob married thrice; He dealt in coals, and avarice was his vice,"
or the lines which the parodists themselves quote in their justification,
"Something had happened wrong about a Bill Which was not drawn with true mercantile skill, So to amend it I was told to go, And seek the firm of Clutterbuck and Co."
But lines such as these in fact occur only at long intervals. Crabbe's couplets are more often pedestrian rather than grotesque.
The poet himself, as the witty brothers relate with some pride, was by no means displeased or offended by the liberty taken. When they met in later years at William Spencer's, Crabbe hurried to meet James Smith with outstretched hand, "Ah! my old enemy, how do you do?" Again, writing to a friend who had expressed some indignation at the parody, Crabbe complained only of the preface. "There is a little ill-nature—and I take the liberty of adding, undeserved ill-nature—in their prefatory address; but in their versification they have done me admirably." Here Crabbe shows a slight lack of self-knowledge. For when to the Letter on Trades the following extenuating postscript is found necessary, there would seem to be hardly any room for the parodist:
"If I have in this Letter praised the good-humour of a man confessedly too inattentive to business, and if in the one on Amusements, I have written somewhat sarcastically of 'the brick-floored parlour which the butcher lets,' be credit given to me that in the one case I had no intention to apologise for idleness, nor any design in the other to treat with contempt the resources of the poor. The good-humour is considered as the consolation of disappointment, and the room is so mentioned because the lodger is vain. Most of my readers will perceive this; but I shall be sorry if by any I am supposed to make pleas for the vices of men, or treat their wants and infirmities with derision or with disdain."
After this, Crabbe himself might have admitted that the descent is not very far to the parodist's delightful apology for the change from "one hautboy" to "one fiddle" in the description of the band. The subsequent explanation, how the poet had purposely intertwined the various handkerchiefs which rescued Pat Jennings's hat from the pit, lest the real owner should be detected, and the reason for it, is a not less exquisite piece of fooling:—"For, in the statistical view of life and manners which I occasionally present, my clerical profession has taught me how extremely improper it would be by any allusion, however slight, to give any uneasiness, however trivial, to any individual, however foolish or wicked." It might perhaps be inferred from such effusions as are here parodied that Crabbe was lacking in a sense of humour. This would certainly be too sweeping an inference, for in many of his sketches of human character he gives unmistakable proof to the contrary. But the talent in question—often so recklessly awarded or denied to us by our fellow-creatures—is very variable in the spheres of its operation. The sense of humour is in its essence, as we have often been told, largely a sense of proportion, and in this sense Crabbe was certainly deficient. The want of it accounts for much more in his writings than for his prose notes and prefaces. It explains much of the diffuseness and formlessness of his poetry, and his inability to grasp the great truth how much the half may be greater than the whole.
In spite, however, of these defects, and of the inequalities of the workmanship, The Borough was from the first a success. The poem appeared in February 1810, and went through six editions in the next six years. It does not indeed present an alluring picture of life in the provinces. It even reminds us of a saying of Tennyson's, that if God made the country, and man made the city, then it was the devil who made the country-town. To travel through the borough from end to end is to pass through much ignoble scenery, human and other, and under a cloudy heaven, with only rare gleams of sunshine, and patches of blue sky. These, when they occur, are proportionally welcome. They include some exquisite descriptions of nature, though with Crabbe it will be noticed that it is always the nature close about his feet, the hedge-row, the meadow, the cottage-garden: as his son has noted, his outlook never extends to the landscape beyond.
In the respects just mentioned, the qualities exhibited in the new poem have been noticed before in The Village and The Parish Register. In The Borough, however, appear some maturer specimens of this power, showing how Crabbe's art was perfecting by practice. Very noticeable are the sections devoted to the almshouse of the borough and its inhabitants. Its founder, an eccentric and philanthropic merchant of the place, as well as the tenants of the almshouse whose descriptions follow, are all avowedly, like most other characters in Crabbe, drawn from life. The pious founder, being left without wife or children, lives in apparent penury, but while driving all beggars from his door, devotes his wealth to secret acts of helpfulness to all his poorer neighbours in distress:—
"A twofold taste he had; to give and spare, Both were his duties, and had equal care; It was his joy to sit alone and fast, Then send a widow and her boys repast: Tears in his eyes would, spite of him, appear, But he from other eyes has kept the tear: All in a wintry night from far he came To soothe the sorrows of a suffering dame, Whose husband robbed him, and to whom he meant A lingering, but reforming punishment: Home then he walked, and found his anger rise When fire and rushlight met his troubled eyes; But these extinguished, and his prayer addressed To Heaven in hope, he calmly sank to rest."
The good man lived on, until, when his seventieth year was past, a building was seen rising on the green north of the village—an almshouse for old men and women of the borough, who had struggled in life and failed. Having built and endowed this harbour of refuge, and placed its government in the hands of six trustees, the modest donor and the pious lady-relative who had shared in his good works passed quietly out of life.
This prelude is followed by an account of the trustees who succeeded to the management after the founder's death, among them a Sir Denys Brand, a lavish donor to the town, but as vulgar and ostentatious as the founder had been humble and modest. This man defeats the intentions of the founder by admitting to the almshouses persons of the shadiest antecedents, on the ground that they at least had been conspicuous in their day:
"Not men in trade by various loss brought down, But those whose glory once amazed the town; Who their last guinea in their pleasure spent, Yet never fell so low as to repent: To these his pity he could largely deal, Wealth they had known, and therefore want could feel."
From this unfit class of pensioner Crabbe selects three for his minute analysis of character. They are, as usual, of a very sordid type. The first, a man named "Blaney," had his prototype in a half-pay major known to Crabbe in his Aldeburgh days, and even the tolerant Jeffrey held that the character was rather too shameless for poetical treatment. The next inmate in order, a woman also drawn from the living model, and disguised under the title of Clelia, is a study of character and career, drawn with consummate skill. Certain abortive attempts of Crabbe to write prose fiction have been already mentioned. But this narrative of the gradual degradation of a coquette of the lower middle class shows that Crabbe possessed at least some of the best qualities of a great novelist. Clelia is, in fact, a kind of country-town Becky Sharp, whose wiles and schemes are not destined to end in a white-washed reputation at a fashionable watering-place. On the contrary she falls from one ignominy to another until, by a gross abuse of a public charity, she ends her days in the almshouse!
One further instance may be cited of Crabbe's persistent effort to awaken attention to the problem of poor-law relief. In his day the question, both as to policy and humanity, between indoor and outdoor relief, was still unsettled. In The Borough, as described, many of the helpless poor were relieved at their own homes. But a new scheme, "The maintenance of the poor in a common mansion erected by the Hundred," seems to have been in force in Suffolk, and up to that time confined to that county. It differed from the workhouse of to-day apparently in this respect, that there was not even an attempt to separate the young and old, the sick and the healthy, the criminal and vicious from the respectable and honest. Yet Crabbe's powerful picture of the misery thus caused to the deserving class of inmate is not without its lesson even after nearly a century during which thought and humanity have been continually at work upon such problems. The loneliness and weariness of workhouse existence passed by the aged poor, separated from kinsfolk and friends, in "the day-room of a London workhouse," have been lately set forth by Miss Edith Sellers, in the pages of the Nineteenth Century, with a pathetic incisiveness not less striking than that of the following passage from the Eighteenth Letter of Crabbe's Borough:—
"Who can, when here, the social neighbour meet? Who learn the story current in the street? Who to the long-known intimate impart Facts they have learned, or feelings of the heart? They talk indeed, but who can choose a friend, Or seek companions at their journey's end? Here are not those whom they when infants knew; Who, with like fortune, up to manhood grew; Who, with like troubles, at old age arrived; Who, like themselves, the joy of life survived; Whom time and custom so familiar made, That looks the meaning in the mind conveyed: But here to strangers, words nor looks impart The various movements of the suffering heart; Nor will that heart with those alliance own, To whom its views and hopes are all unknown What, if no grievous fears their lives annoy, Is it not worse no prospects to enjoy? 'Tis cheerless living in such bounded view, With nothing dreadful, but with nothing new; Nothing to bring them joy, to make them weep; The day itself is, like the night, asleep."
The essence of workhouse monotony has surely never been better indicated than here.
The Borough did much to spread Crabbe's reputation while he remained, doing his duty to the best of his ability and knowledge, in the quiet loneliness of the Vale of Belvoir, but his growing fame lay far outside the boundaries of his parish. When, a few years later, he visited London and was received with general welcome by the distinguished world of literature and the arts, he was much surprised. "In my own village," he told James Smith, "they think nothing of me." The three years following the publication of The Borough were specially lonely. He had, indeed, his two sons, George and John, with him. They had both passed through Cambridge—one at Trinity and the other at Caius, and were now in holy orders. Each held a curacy in the near neighbourhood, enabling them to live under the parental roof. But Mrs. Crabbe's condition was now increasingly sad, her mind being almost gone. There was no daughter, and we hear of no other female relative at hand to assist Crabbe in the constant watching of the patient. This circumstance alone limited his opportunities of accepting the hospitalities of the neighbourhood, though with the Welbys and other county families, as well as with the surrounding clergy, he was a welcome guest.
The Borough appeared in February 1810, and the reviewers were prompt in their attention. The Edinburgh reviewed the poem in April of the same year, and the Quarterly followed in October. Jeffrey had already noticed The Parish Register in 1808. The critic's admiration of Crabbe had been, and remained to the end, cordial and sincere. But now, in reviewing the new volume, a note of warning appears. The critic finds himself obliged to admit that the current objections to Crabbe's treatment of country life are well founded. "His chief fault," he says, "is his frequent lapse into disgusting representations." All powerful and pathetic poetry, Jeffrey admits, abounds in "images of distress," but these images must never excite "disgust," for that is fatal to the ends which poetry was meant to produce. A few months later the Quarterly followed in the same strain, but went on to preach a more questionable doctrine. The critic in fact lays down the extraordinary canon that the function of Poetry is not to present any truth, if it happens to be unpleasant, but to substitute an agreeable illusion in its place. "We turn to poetry," he says, "not that we may see and feel what we see and feel in our daily experience, but that we may be refreshed by other emotions, and fairer prospects, that we may take shelter from the realities of life in the paradise of Fancy."
The appearance of these two prominent reviews to a certain extent influenced the direction of Crabbe's genius for the remainder of his life. He evidently had given them earnest consideration, and in the preface to the Tales, his next production, he attempted something like an answer to each. Without mentioning any names he replies to Jeffrey in the first part of his preface, and to the Quarterly reviewer in the second. Jeffrey had expressed a hope that Crabbe would in future concentrate his powers upon some interesting and connected story. "At present it is impossible not to regret that so much genius should be wasted in making us perfectly acquainted with individuals of whom we are to know nothing but their characters." Crabbe in reply makes what was really the best apology for not accepting this advice. He intimates that he had already made the experiment, but without success. His peculiar gifts did not fit him for it. As he wrote the words, he doubtless had in mind the many prose romances that he had written, and then consigned to the flames. The short story, or rather the exhibition of a single character developed through a few incidents, he felt to be the method that fitted his talent best.
Crabbe then proceeds to deal with the question, evidently implied by the Quarterly reviewer, how far many passages in The Borough, when concerned with low life, were really poetry at all. Crabbe pleads in reply the example of other English poets, whose claim to the title had never been disputed. He cites Chaucer, who had depicted very low life indeed, and in the same rhymed metre. "If all that kind of satire wherein character is skilfully delineated, must no longer be esteemed as genuine poetry," then what becomes of the author of The Canterbury Tales? Crabbe could not supply, or be expected to supply, the answer to this question. He could not discern that the treatment is everything, and that Chaucer was endowed with many qualities denied to himself—the spirit of joyousness and the love of sunshine, and together with these, gifts of humour and pathos to which Crabbe could make no pretension. From Chaucer, Crabbe passes to the great but very different master, on whom he had first built his style. Was Pope, then, not a poet? seeing that he too has "no small portion of this actuality of relation, this nudity of description, and poetry without an atmosphere"? Here again, of course, Crabbe overlooks one essential difference between himself and his model. Both were keen-sighted students of character, and both described sordid and worldly ambitions. But Pope was strongest exactly where Crabbe was weak. He had achieved absolute mastery of form, and could condense into a couplet some truth which Crabbe expanded, often excellently, in a hundred lines of very unequal workmanship. The Quarterly reviewer quotes, as admirable of its kind, the description in The Borough of the card-club, with the bickerings and ill-nature of the old ladies and gentlemen who frequented it. It is in truth very graphic, and no doubt absolutely faithful to life; but it is rather metrical fiction than poetry. There is more of the essence of poetry in a single couplet of Pope's:
"See how the world its veterans rewards— A youth of frolics, an old age of cards."
For here the expression is faultless, and Pope has educed an eternally pathetic truth, of universal application.
Even had the gentle remonstrances of the two reviewers never been expressed, it would seem as if Crabbe had already arrived at somewhat similar conclusions on his own account. At the time the reviews appeared, the whole of the twenty-one Tales to be published in August 1812 were already written. Crabbe had perceived that if he was to retain the admiring public he had won, he must break fresh ground. Aldeburgh was played out. It had provided abundant material and been an excellent training-ground for Crabbe's powers. But he had discovered that there were other fields worth cultivating besides that of the hard lots of the very poor. He had associated in his later years with a class above these—not indeed with the "upper ten," save when he dined at Belvoir Castle, but with classes lying between these two extremes. He had come to feel more and more the fascination of analysing human character and motives among his equals. He had a singularly retentive memory, and the habit of noting and brooding over incidents—specially of "life's little ironies"—wherever he encountered them. He does not seem to have possessed much originating power. When, a few years later, his friend Mrs. Leadbeater inquired of him whether the characters in his various poems were drawn from life, he replied:—"Yes, I will tell you readily about my ventures, whom I endeavour to paint as nearly as I could, and dare—for in some cases I dared not.... Thus far you are correct: there is not one of whom I had not in my mind the original, but I was obliged in most cases to take them from their real situations, and in one or two instances even to change their sex, and in many, the circumstances.... Indeed I do not know that I could paint merely from my own fancy, and there is no cause why I should. Is there not diversity enough in society?"
Crabbe's new volume—"Tales. By the Rev. George Crabbe, LL.B."—was published by Mr. Hatchard of Piccadilly in the summer of 1812. It received a warm welcome from the poet's admirers, and was reviewed, most appreciatively, by Jeffrey in the Edinburgh for November. The Tales were twenty-one in number, and to each was prefixed a series, often four or five, of quotations from Shakespeare, illustrating the incidents in the Tales, or the character there depicted. Crabbe's knowledge of Shakespeare must have been in those days, when concordances were not, very remarkable, for he quotes by no means always from the best known plays, and he was not a frequenter of the theatre. Crabbe had of late studied human nature in books as well as in life.
As already remarked, the Tales are often built upon events in his own family, or else occurring within their knowledge. The second in order of publication, The Parting Hour, arose out of an incident in the life of the poet's own brother, which is thus related in the notes to the edition of 1834:
"Mr. Crabbe's fourth brother, William, taking to a sea-faring life, was made prisoner by the Spaniards. He was carried to Mexico, where he became a silversmith, married, and prospered, until his increasing riches attracted a charge of Protestantism; the consequence of which was much persecution. He at last was obliged to abandon Mexico, his property, and his family; and was discovered in the year 1803 by an Aldeburgh sailor on the coast of Honduras, where again he seems to have found some success in business. This sailor was the only person he had seen for many a year who could tell him anything about Aldeburgh and his family, and great was his perplexity when he was informed that his eldest brother, George, was a clergyman. 'This cannot be our George,' said the wanderer, 'he was a Doctor! This was the first, and it was also the last, tidings that ever reached Mr. Crabbe of his brother William; and upon the Aldeburgh sailor's story of his casual interview, it is obvious that he built this tale."
The story as developed by Crabbe is pathetic and picturesque, reminding us in its central interest of Enoch Arden. Allen Booth, the youngest son of his parents dwelling in a small seaport, falls early in love with a child schoolfellow, for whom his affection never falters. When grown up the young man accepts an offer from a prosperous kinsman in the West Indies to join him in his business. His beloved sees him depart with many misgivings, though their mutual devotion was never to fade. She does not see him again for forty years, when he returns, like Arden, to his "native bay,"
"A worn-out man with wither'd limbs and lame, His mind oppress'd with woes, and bent with age his frame."
He finds his old love, who had been faithful to her engagement for ten years, and then (believing Allen to be dead) had married. She is now a widow, with grown-up children scattered through the world, and is alone. Allen then tells his sad story. The ship in which he sailed from England had been taken by the Spaniards, and he had been carried a slave to the West Indies, where he worked in a silver mine, improved his position under a kind master, and finally married a Spanish girl, hopeless of ever returning to England though still unforgetful of his old love. He accumulates money, and, like Crabbe's brother, incurs the envy of his Roman Catholic neighbours. He is denounced as a heretic, who would doubtless bring up his children in the accursed English faith. On his refusal to become a Catholic he is expelled the country, as the condition of his life being spared:
"His wife, his children, weeping in his sight, All urging him to flee, he fled, and cursed his flight."
After many adventures he falls in with a ship bound for England, but again his return is delayed. He is impressed (it was war-time), and fights for his country; loses a limb, is again left upon a foreign shore where his education finds him occupation as a clerk; and finally, broken with age and toil, finds his way back to England, where the faithful friend of his youth takes care of him and nurses him to the end. The situation at the close is very touching—for the joy of re-union is clouded by the real love he feels for the Spanish wife and children from whom he had been torn, and who are continually present to him in his dreams.
Nor is the treatment inadequate. It is at once discernible how much Crabbe had already gained by the necessity for concentration upon the development of a story instead of on the mere analysis of character. The style, moreover, has clarified and gained in dignity: there are few, if any, relapses into the homelier style on which the parodist could try his hand. Had the author of Enoch Arden treated the same theme in blank-verse, the workmanship would have been finer, but he could hardly have sounded a truer note of unexaggerated pathos.
The same may be said of the beautiful tale of The Lover's Journey. Here again is the product of an experience belonging to Crabbe's personal history. In his early Aldeburgh days, when he was engaged to Sarah Elmy with but faint hope of ever being able to marry, it was one of the rare alleviations of his distressed condition to walk over from Aldeburgh to Beccles (some twenty miles distant), where his betrothed was occasionally a visitor to her mother and sisters. "It was in his walks," writes the son, "between Aldeburgh and Beccles that Mr. Crabbe passed through the very scenery described in the first part of The Lover's Journey; while near Beccles, in another direction, he found the contrast of rich vegetation introduced in the latter part of that tale; nor have I any doubt that the disappointment of the story figures out something that, on one of these visits, befell himself, and the feelings with which he received it.
"Gone to a friend, she tells me;—I commend Her purpose: means she to a female friend?"
"For truth compels me to say, that he was by no means free from the less amiable sign of a strong attachment—jealousy." The story is of the slightest—an incident rather than a story. The lover, joyous and buoyant, traverses the dreary coast scenery of Suffolk, and because he is happy, finds beauty and charm in the commonest and most familiar sights and sounds of nature: every single hedge-row blossom, every group of children at their play. The poem is indeed an illustration of Coleridge's lines in his ode Dejection:
"O Lady, we receive but what we give, And in our life alone does Nature live,— Ours is her wedding-garment, ours her shroud."
All along the road to his beloved's house, nature wears this "wedding-garment." On his arrival, however, the sun fades suddenly from the landscape. The lady is from home: gone to visit a friend a few miles distant, not so far but that her lover can follow,—but the slight, real or imaginary, probably the latter, comes as such a rebuff, that during the "little more—how far away!" that he travels, the country, though now richer and lovelier, seems to him (as once to Hamlet) a mere "pestilent congregation of vapours." But in the end he finds his mistress and learns that she had gone on duty, not for pleasure,—and they return happy again, and so happy indeed, that he has neither eyes nor thoughts for any of nature's fertilities or barrennesses—only for the dear one at his side.
I have already had occasion to quote a few lines from this beautiful poem, to show Crabbe's minute observation—in his time so rare—of flowers and birds and all that makes the charm of rural scenery—but I must quote some more:
"'Various as beauteous, Nature, is thy face,' Exclaim'd Orlando: 'all that grows has grace: All are appropriate—bog, and marsh, and fen, Are only poor to undiscerning men; Here may the nice and curious eye explore How Nature's hand adorns the rushy moor, Here the rare moss in secret shade is found, Here the sweet myrtle of the shaking ground; Beauties are these that from the view retire, But well repay th' attention they require; For these my Laura will her home forsake, And all the pleasures they afford, partake.'"
And then follows a masterly description of a gipsy encampment on which the lover suddenly comes in his travels. Crabbe's treatment of peasant life has often been compared to that of divers painters—the Dutch school, Hogarth, Wilkie, and others—and the following curiously suggests Frederick Walker's fine drawing, The Vagrants:
"Again, the country was enclosed, a wide And sandy road has banks on either side; Where, lo! a hollow on the left appear'd, And there a gipsy tribe their tent had rear'd; 'Twas open spread, to catch the morning sun, And they had now their early meal begun, When two brown boys just left their grassy seat, The early Trav'ller with their prayers to greet: While yet Orlando held his pence in hand, He saw their sister on her duty stand; Some twelve years old, demure, affected, sly, Prepared the force of early powers to try; Sudden a look of languor he descries, And well-feigned apprehension in her eyes; Train'd but yet savage in her speaking face, He mark'd the features of her vagrant race; When a light laugh and roguish leer express'd The vice implanted in her youthful breast: Forth from the tent her elder brother came, Who seem'd offended, yet forbore to blame The young designer, but could only trace The looks of pity in the Trav'ller's face: Within, the Father, who from fences nigh Had brought the fuel for the fire's supply, Watch'd now the feeble blaze, and stood dejected by. On ragged rug, just borrowed from the bed, And by the hand of coarse indulgence fed, In dirty patchwork negligently dress'd, Reclined the Wife, an infant at her breast; In her wild face some touch of grace remain'd, Of vigour palsied and of beauty stain'd; Her bloodshot eyes on her unheeding mate Were wrathful turn'd, and seem'd her wants to state, Cursing his tardy aid—her Mother there With gipsy-state engross'd the only chair; Solemn and dull her look; with such she stands, And reads the milk-maid's fortune in her hands, Tracing the lines of life; assumed through years, Each feature now the steady falsehood wears. With hard and savage eye she views the food, And grudging pinches their intruding brood; Last in the group, the worn-out Grandsire sits Neglected, lost, and living but by fits: Useless, despised, his worthless labours done, And half protected by the vicious Son, Who half supports him; he with heavy glance Views the young ruffians who around him dance; And, by the sadness in his face, appears To trace the progress of their future years: Through what strange course of misery, vice, deceit, Must wildly wander each unpractised cheat! What shame and grief, what punishment and pain, Sport of fierce passions, must each child sustain— Ere they like him approach their latter end, Without a hope, a comfort, or a friend!
But this Orlando felt not; 'Rogues,' said he, 'Doubtless they are, but merry rogues they be; They wander round the land, and be it true They break the laws—then let the laws pursue The wanton idlers; for the life they live, Acquit I cannot, but I can forgive.' This said, a portion from his purse was thrown, And every heart seem'd happy like his own."
The Patron, one of the most carefully elaborated of the Tales, is on an old and familiar theme. The scorn that "patient merit of the unworthy takes"; the misery of the courtier doomed "in suing long to bide";—the ills that assail the scholar's life,
"Toil, envy, want, the Patron and the jail,"
are standing subjects for the moralist and the satirist. In Crabbe's poem we have the story of a young man, the son of a "Borough-burgess," who, showing some real promise as a poet, and having been able to render the local Squire some service by his verses at election time, is invited in return to pay a visit of some weeks at the Squire's country-seat. The Squire has vaguely undertaken to find some congenial post for the young scholar, whose ideas and ambitions are much in advance of those entertained for him in his home. The young man has a most agreeable time with his new friends. He lives for the while with every refinement about him, and the Squire's daughter, a young lady of the type of Lady Clara Vere de Vere, evidently enjoys the opportunity of breaking a country heart for pastime, "ere she goes to town." For after a while the family leave for their mansion in London, the Squire at parting once more impressing on his young guest that he will not forget him. After waiting a reasonable time, the young poet repairs to London and seeks to obtain an interview with his Patron. After many unsuccessful trials, and rebuffs at the door from the servants, a letter is at last sent out to him from their master, coolly advising him to abjure all dreams of a literary life and offering him a humble post in the Custom House. The young man, in bitterness of heart, tries the work for a short time; and then, his health and spirits having utterly failed, he returns to his parents' home to die, the father thanking God, as he moves away from his son's grave, that no other of his children has tastes and talents above his position:
"'There lies my Boy,' he cried, 'of care bereft, And, Heaven be praised, I've not a genius left: No one among ye, sons! is doomed to live On high-raised hopes of what the Great may give.'"
Crabbe, who is nothing if not incisive in the drawing of his moral, and lays on his colours with no sparing hand, represents the heartless Patron and his family as hearing the sad tidings with quite amazing sang-froid:
"Meantime the news through various channels spread, The youth, once favour'd with such praise, was dead: 'Emma,' the Lady cried, 'my words attend, Your siren-smiles have kill'd your humble friend; The hope you raised can now delude no more, Nor charms, that once inspired, can now restore'
Faint was the flush of anger and of shame, That o'er the cheek of conscious beauty came: 'You censure not,' said she, 'the sun's bright rays, When fools imprudent dare the dangerous gaze; And should a stripling look till he were blind, You would not justly call the light unkind; But is he dead? and am I to suppose The power of poison in such looks as those?' She spoke, and pointing to the mirror, cast A pleased gay glance, and curtsied as she pass'd.
My Lord, to whom the poet's fate was told, Was much affected, for a man so cold: 'Dead!' said his lordship, 'run distracted, mad! Upon my soul I'm sorry for the lad; And now, no doubt, th' obliging world will say That my harsh usage help'd him on his way: What! I suppose, I should have nursed his muse, And with champagne have brighten'd up his views, Then had he made me famed my whole life long, And stunn'd my ears with gratitude and song. Still should the father hear that I regret Our joint misfortune—Yes! I'll not forget.'"
The story, though it has no precise prototype in Crabbe's own history, is clearly the fruit of his experience of life at Belvoir Castle, combined with the sad recollection of his sufferings when only a few years before he, a young man with the consciousness of talent, was rolling butter-tubs on Slaughden Quay.
Much of the Tale is admirably and forcibly written, but again it may be said that it is powerful fiction rather than poetry—and indeed into such matters poetry can hardly enter. It displays the fine observation of Miss Austen, clothed in effective couplets of the school of Johnson and Churchill. Yet every now and then the true poet comes to the surface. The essence of a dank and misty day in late autumn has never been seized with more perfect truth than in these lines:
"Cold grew the foggy morn, the day was brief, Loose on the cherry hung the crimson leaf; The dew dwelt ever on the herb; the woods Roar'd with strong blasts, with mighty showers the floods: All green was vanish'd, save of pine and yew, That still displayed their melancholy hue; Save the green holly with its berries red, And the green moss that o'er the gravel spread."
The scheme of these detached Tales had served to develop one special side of Crabbe's talent. The analysis of human character, with its strength and weakness (but specially the latter), finds fuller exercise as the poet has to trace its effects upon the earthly fortunes of the persons portrayed. The Tale entitled The Gentleman Farmer is a striking illustration in point. Jeffrey in his review of the Tales in the Edinburgh supplies, as usual, a short abstract of the story, not without due insight into its moral. But a profounder student of human nature than Jeffrey has, in our own day, cited the Tale as worthy even to illustrate a memorable teaching of St. Paul. The Bishop of Worcester, better known as Canon Gore to the thousands who listened to the discourse in Westminster Abbey, finds in this story a perfect illustration of what moral freedom is, and what it is often erroneously supposed to be:
"It is of great practical importance that we should get a just idea of what our freedom consists in. There are men who, under the impulse of a purely materialist science, declare the sense of moral freedom to be an illusion. This is of course a gross error. But what has largely played into the hands of this error is the exaggerated idea of human freedom which is ordinarily current, an idea which can only be held by ignoring our true and necessary dependence and limitation. It is this that we need to have brought home to us. There is an admirable story among George Crabbe's Tales called 'The Gentleman Farmer.' The hero starts in life resolved that he will not put up with any bondage. The orthodox clergyman, the orthodox physician, and orthodox matrimony—all these alike represent social bondage in different forms, and he will have none of them So he starts on a career of 'unchartered freedom'
'To prove that he alone was king of him,'
and the last scene of all represents him the weak slave of his mistress, a quack doctor, and a revivalist—'which things are an allegory.'"
The quotation shows that Crabbe, neglected by the readers of poetry to-day, is still cherished by the psychologist and divine. It is to the "graver mind" rather than to the "lighter heart" that he oftenest appeals. Newman, to mention no small names, found Crabbe's pathos and fidelity to Human Nature even more attractive to him in advanced years than in youth. There is indeed much in common between Crabbe's treatment of life and its problems, and Newman's. Both may be called "stern" portrayers of human nature, not only as intended in Byron's famous line, but in Wordsworth's use of the epithet when he invoked Duty as the "stern Daughter of the voice of God." A kindred lesson to that drawn by Canon Gore from The Gentleman Farmer is taught in the yet grimmer Tale of Edward Shore. The story, as summarised by Jeffrey, is as follows:
"The hero is a young man of aspiring genius and enthusiastic temper with an ardent love of virtue, but no settled principles either of conduct or opinion. He first conceives an attachment for an amiable girl, who is captivated with his conversation; but, being too poor to marry, soon comes to spend more of his time in the family of an elderly sceptic of his acquaintance, who had recently married a young wife, and placed unbounded confidence in her virtue, and the honour of his friend. In a moment of temptation they abuse this confidence. The husband renounces him with dignified composure; and he falls at once from the romantic pride of his virtue. He then seeks the company of the dissipated and gay, and ruins his health and fortune without regaining his tranquillity. When in gaol and miserable, he is relieved by an unknown hand, and traces the benefaction to the friend whose former kindness he had so ill repaid. This humiliation falls upon his proud spirit and shattered nerves with an overwhelming force, and his reason fails beneath it. He is for some time a raving maniac, and then falls into a state of gay and compassionable imbecility, which is described with inimitable beauty in the close of this story."
Jeffrey's abstract is fairly accurate, save in one particular. Edward Shore can hardly be said to feel an "ardent love of virtue." Rather is he perfectly confident of his respectability, and bitterly contemptuous of those who maintain the necessity of religion to control men's unruly passions. His own lofty conceptions of the dignity of human nature are sufficient for himself:
"'While reason guides me, I shall walk aright, Nor need a steadier hand, or stronger light; Nor this in dread of awful threats, design'd For the weak spirit and the grov'ling mind; But that, engaged by thoughts and views sublime, I wage free war with grossness and with crime.' Thus looked he proudly on the vulgar crew, Whom statutes govern, and whom fears subdue."
As motto for this story Crabbe quotes the fine speech of Henry V. on discovering the treachery of Lord Scrope, whose character had hitherto seemed so immaculate. The comparison thus suggested is not as felicitous as in many of Crabbe's citations. Had In Memoriam been then written, a more exact parallel might have been found in Tennyson's warning to the young enthusiast:
"See thou, that countest reason ripe In holding by the law within, Thou fail not in a world of sin, And ev'n for want of such a type."
The story is for the most part admirably told. The unhappy man, reduced to idiocy of a harmless kind, and the common playmate of the village children, is encountered now and then by the once loved maid, who might have made him happy:
"Kindly she chides his boyish flights, while he Will for a moment fix'd and pensive be; And as she trembling speaks, his lively eyes Explore her looks; he listens to her sighs; Charm'd by her voice, th' harmonious sounds invade His clouded mind, and for a time persuade: Like a pleased infant, who has newly caught From the maternal glance a gleam of thought, He stands enrapt, the half-known voice to hear, And starts, half conscious, at the falling tear.
Rarely from town, nor then unwatch'd, he goes, In darker mood, as if to hide his woes; Returning soon, he with impatience seeks His youthful friends, and shouts, and sings, and speaks; Speaks a wild speech with action all as wild— The children's leader, and himself a child; He spins their top, or at their bidding bends His back, while o'er it leap his laughing friends; Simple and weak, he acts the boy once more, And heedless children call him Silly Shore."
In striking contrast to the prevailing tone of the other Tales is the charming story, conceived in a vein of purest comedy, called The Frank Courtship. This Tale alone should be a decisive answer to those who have doubted Crabbe's possession of the gift of humour, and on this occasion he has refrained from letting one dark shadow fall across his picture. It tells of one Jonas Kindred, a wealthy puritanic Dissenter of narrowest creed and masterful temper. He has an only daughter, the pride of her parents, and brought up by them in the strictest tenets of the sect. Her father has a widowed and childless sister, with a comfortable fortune, living in some distant town; and in pity of her solitary condition he allows his naturally vivacious daughter to spend the greater part of the year with her aunt. The aunt does not share the prejudices of her brother's household. She likes her game of cards and other social joys, and is quite a leader of fashion in her little town. To this life and its enjoyments the beautiful and clever Sybil takes very kindly, and unfolds many attractive graces. Once a year the aunt and niece by arrangement spend a few weeks in Sybil's old home. The aunt, with much serpentine wisdom, arranges that she and her niece shall adapt themselves to this very different atmosphere—eschew cards, attend regularly at chapel, and comply with the tone and habits of the family. The niece, however, is really as good as she is pretty, and her conscience smites her for deceiving her father, of whom she is genuinely fond. She stands before him "pure, pensive, simple, sad,"—yet
"the damsel's heart, When Jonas praised, reproved her for the part; For Sybil, fond of pleasure, gay and light, Had still a secret bias to the right; Vain as she was—and flattery made her vain— Her simulation gave her bosom pain."
As time wears on, however, this state of things must come to a close. Jonas is anxious that his daughter shall marry suitably, and he finds among his neighbours an admirable young man, a staunch member of the "persuasion," and well furnished in this world's goods. He calls his daughter home, that she may be at once introduced to her future husband, for the father is as certain as Sir Anthony Absolute himself that daughters should accept what is offered them and ask no questions. Sybil is by no means unwilling to enter the holy state, if the right man can be found. Indeed, she is wearying of the aimless life she lives with her worldly aunt, and the gradual change in her thoughts and hopes is indicated in a passage of much delicacy and insight:
"Jonas now ask'd his daughter—and the Aunt, Though loth to lose her, was obliged to grant.— But would not Sybil to the matron cling, And fear to leave the shelter of her wing? No! in the young there lives a love of change, And to the easy they prefer the strange! Then, too, the joys she once pursued with zeal, From whist and visits sprung, she ceased to feel: When with, the matrons Sybil first sat down, To cut for partners and to stake her crown, This to the youthful maid preferment seem'd, Who thought what woman she was then esteem'd; But in few years, when she perceived indeed The real woman to the girl succeed, No longer tricks and honours fill'd her mind, But other feelings, not so well defined; She then reluctant grew, and thought it hard To sit and ponder o'er an ugly card; Rather the nut-tree shade the nymph preferr'd, Pleased with the pensive gloom and evening bird; Thither, from company retired, she took The silent walk, or read the fav'rite book."
The interview between Sybil and the young man is conceived with real skill and humour. The young lady receives her lover, prepared to treat him with gentle mockery and to keep him at a convenient distance. The young lover is not daunted, and plainly warns her against the consequences of such levity. But as the little duel proceeds, each gradually detects the real good that underlies the surface qualities of the other. In spite of his formalism, Sybil discerns that her lover is full of good sense and feeling; and he makes the same discovery with regard to the young lady's badinage. And then, after a conflict of wits that seems to terminate without any actual result, the anxious father approaches his child with a final appeal to her sense of filial duty:
"With anger fraught, but willing to persuade, The wrathful father met the smiling maid: 'Sybil,' said he, 'I long, and yet I dread To know thy conduct—hath Josiah fled? And, grieved and fretted by thy scornful air, For his lost peace, betaken him to prayer? Couldst then his pure and modest mind distress By vile remarks upon his speech, address, Attire, and voice?'—'All this I must confess.' 'Unhappy child! what labour will it cost To win him back!'—'I do not think him lost.' 'Courts he then (trifler!) insult and disdain?'— 'No; but from these he courts me to refrain.' 'Then hear me, Sybil: should Josiah leave Thy father's house?'—'My father's child would grieve.' 'That is of grace, and if he come again To speak of love?'—'I might from grief refrain.' 'Then wilt thou, daughter, our design embrace?'— Can I resist it, if it be of grace?' 'Dear child! in three plain words thy mind express: Wilt thou have this good youth?'—'Dear father! yes.'"
All the characters in the story—the martinet father and his poor crushed wife, as well as the pair of lovers—are indicated with an appreciation of the value of dramatic contrast that might make the little story effective on the stage. One of the Tales in this collection, The Confidant, was actually turned into a little drama in blank verse by Charles Lamb, under the changed title of The Wife's Trial: or the Intruding Widow. The story of Crabbe's Confidant is not pleasant; and Lamb thought well to modify it, so as to diminish the gravity of the secret of which the malicious friend was possessed. There is nothing but what is sweet and attractive in the little comedy of The Frank Courtship, and it might well be commended to the dexterous and sympathetic hand of Mr. J.M. Barrie.
VISITING IN LONDON
In the margin of FitzGerald's copy of the Memoir an extract is quoted from Crabbe's Diary: "1810, Nov. 7.—Finish Tales. Not happy hour." The poet's comment may have meant something more than that so many of his Tales dealt with sad instances of human frailty. At that moment, and for three years longer, there hung over Crabbe's family life a cloud that never lifted—the hopeless illness of his wife. Two years before, Southey, in answer to a friend who had made some reference to Crabbe and his poetry, writes:
"With Crabbe's poems I have been acquainted for about twenty years, having read them when a schoolboy on their first publication, and, by the help of Elegant Extracts, remembered from that time what was best worth remembering. You rightly compare him to Goldsmith. He is an imitator, or rather an antithesizer of Goldsmith, if such a word may be coined for the occasion. His merit is precisely the same as Goldsmith's—that of describing things clearly and strikingly; but there is a wide difference between the colouring of the two poets. Goldsmith threw a sunshine over all his pictures, like that of one of our water-colour artists when he paints for ladies—a light and a beauty not to be found in Nature, though not more brilliant or beautiful than what Nature really affords; Crabbe's have a gloom which is also not in Nature—not the shade of a heavy day, of mist, or of clouds, but the dark and overcharged shadows of one who paints by lamplight—whose very lights have a gloominess. In part this is explained by his history."
Southey's letter was written in September 1808, before either The Borough or the Tales was published, which may account for the inadequacy of his criticism on Crabbe's poetry. But the above passage throws light upon a period in Crabbe's history to which his son naturally does little more than refer in general and guarded terms. In a subsequent passage of the letter already quoted, we are reminded that as early as the year 1803 Mrs. Crabbe's mental derangement was familiarly known to her friends.
But now, when his latest book was at last in print, and attracting general attention, the end of Crabbe's long watching was not far off. In the summer of 1813 Mrs. Crabbe had rallied so far as to express a wish to see London again, and the father and mother and two sons spent nearly three months in rooms in a hotel. Crabbe was able to visit Dudley North, and other of his old friends, and to enter to some extent into the gaieties of the town, but also, as always, taking advantage of the return to London to visit and help the poor and distressed, not unmindful of his own want and misery in the great city thirty years before. The family returned to Muston in September, and towards the close of the month Mrs. Crabbe was released from her long disease. On the north wall of the chancel of Muston Church, close to the altar, is a plain marble slab recording that not far away lie the remains of "Sarah, wife of the Rev. George Crabbe, late Rector of this Parish."
Within two days of the wife's death Crabbe fell ill of a serious malady, worn out as he was with long anxiety and grief. He was for a few days in danger of his life, and so well aware of his condition that he desired that his wife's grave "might not be closed till it was seen whether he should recover." He rallied, however, and returned to the duties of his parish, and to a life of still deeper loneliness. But his old friends at Belvoir Castle once more came to his deliverance. Within a short time the Duke offered him the living of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, a small manufacturing town, on the line (as we should describe it today) between Bath and Salisbury. The value of the preferment was not as great as that of the joint livings of Muston and Allington, so that poor Crabbe was once more doomed to be a pluralist, and to accept, also at the Duke's hands, the vicarage of Croxton Kerrial, near Belvoir Castle, where, however, he never resided.
And now the time came for Crabbe's final move, and rector of Trowbridge he was to remain for the rest of his life. He was glad to leave Muston, which now had for him the saddest of associations. He had never been happy there, for reasons we have seen. What Crabbe's son calls "diversity of religious sentiment" had produced "a coolness in some of his parishioners, which he felt the more painfully because, whatever might be their difference of opinion, he was ever ready to help and oblige them all by medical and other aid to the utmost extent of his power." So that in leaving Muston he was not, as was evident, leaving many to lament his departure. Indeed, malignity was so active in one quarter that the bells of the parish church were rung to welcome Crabbe's successor before Crabbe and his sons had quitted the house!
For other reasons, perhaps, Crabbe prepared to leave his two livings with a sense of relief. His wife's death had cast a permanent shadow over the landscape. The neighbouring gentry were kindly disposed, but probably not wholly sympathetic. It is clear that there was a certain rusticity about Crabbe; and his politics, such as they were, had been formed in a different school from that of the county families. A busy country town was likely to furnish interests and distractions of a different kind. But before finally quitting the neighbourhood he visited a sister at Aldeburgh, and, his son writes, 'one day was given to a solitary ramble among the scenery of bygone years—Parham and the woods of Glemham, then in the first blossom of May. He did not return until night; and in his note-book I find the following brief record of this mournful visit:
"Yes, I behold again the place, The seat of joy, the source of pain; It brings in view the form and face That I must never see again.
The night-bird's song that sweetly floats On this soft gloom—this balmy air— Brings to the mind her sweeter notes That I again must never hear.
Lo! yonder shines that window's light, My guide, my token, heretofore; And now again it shines as bright, When those dear eyes can shine no more.
Then hurry from this place away! It gives not now the bliss it gave; For Death has made its charm his prey, And joy is buried in her grave."
In family relationships, and indeed all others, Crabbe's tenderness was never wanting, and the verse that follows was found long afterwards written on a paper in which his wife's wedding-ring, nearly worn through before she died, was wrapped:
"The ring so worn, as you behold, So thin, so pale, is yet of gold: The passion such it was to prove; Worn with life's cares, love yet was love."
Crabbe was inducted to the living of Trowbridge on the 3rd of June 1814, and preached his first sermon two days later. His two sons followed him, as soon as their existing engagements allowed them to leave Leicestershire. The younger, John, who married in 1816, became his father's curate, and the elder, who married a year later, became curate at Pucklechurch, not many miles distant. As Crabbe's old cheerfulness gradually returned he found much congenial society in the better educated classes about him. His reputation as a poet was daily spreading. The Tales passed from edition to edition, and brought him many admirers and sympathisers. The "busy, populous clothing town," as he described Trowbridge to a friend, provided him with intelligent neighbours of a class different from any he had yet been thrown with. And yet once more, as his son has to admit, he failed to secure the allegiance of the church-going parishioners. His immediate predecessor, a curate in charge, had been one of those in whom a more passionate missionary zeal had been stirred by the Methodist movement—"endeared to the more serious inhabitants by warm zeal and a powerful talent for preaching extempore." The parishioners had made urgent appeal to the noble patron to appoint this man to the benefice, and the Duke's disregard of their petition had produced much bitterness in the parish. Then, again, in Crabbe there was a "lay" element, which had probably not been found in his predecessor, and he might occasionally be seen "at a concert, a ball, or even a play." And finally, not long after his arrival, he took the unpopular side in an election for the representation of the county. The candidate he supported was strongly opposed by the "manufacturing interest," and Crabbe became the object of intense dislike at the time of the election, so much so that a violent mob attempted to prevent his leaving his house to go to the poll. However, Crabbe showed the utmost courage during the excitement, and his other fine qualities of sterling worth and kindness of heart ultimately made their way; and in the sixteen years that followed, Crabbe took still firmer hold of the affection of the worthier part of his parishioners.
Crabbe's son thought good to devote several pages of his Memoir to the question why his father, having now no unmarried son to be his companion, should not have taken such a sensible step as to marry again. For the old man, if he deserved to be so called at the age of sixty-two, was still very susceptible to the charms of female society, and indeed not wholly free from the habit of philandering—a habit which occasionally "inspired feelings of no ordinary warmth" in the fair objects of "his vain devotion." One such incident all but ended in a permanent engagement. A MS. quotation from the poet's Diary, copied in the margin of FitzGerald's volume, may possibly refer to this occasion. Under date of September 22 occurs this entry: "Sidmouth. Miss Ridout. Declaration. Acceptance." But under October 5 is written the ominous word, "Mr. Ridout." And later: "Dec. 12. Charlotte's picture returned." A tragedy (or was it a comedy?) seems written in these few words. Edward FitzGerald adds to this his own note: "Miss Ridout I remember—an elegant spinster; friend of my mother's. About 1825 she had been at Sidmouth, and known Crabbe." The son quotes some very ardent verses belonging to this period, but not assignable to any particular charmer, such as one set beginning:
"And wilt thou never smile again; Thy cruel purpose never shaken? Hast thou no feeling for my pain, Refused, disdain'd, despised, forsaken?"
The son indicates these amiable foibles in a filial tone and in apologetic terms, but the "liberal shepherds" sometimes spoke more frankly. An old squire remarked to a friend in reference to this subject, "D—mme, sir! the very first time Crabbe dined at my house he made love to my sister!" And a lady is known to have complained that on a similar occasion Crabbe had exhibited so much warmth of manner that she "felt quite frightened." His son entirely supports the same view as to his father's almost demonstratively affectionate manner towards ladies who interested him, and who, perhaps owing to his rising repute as an author, showed a corresponding interest in the elderly poet. Crabbe himself admits "the soft impeachment." In a letter to his newly found correspondent, Mrs. Leadbeater (granddaughter of Burke's old schoolmaster, Richard Shackleton), he confesses that women were more to him than men:
"I'm alone now; and since my removing into a busy town among the multitude, the loneliness is but more apparent and more melancholy. But this is only at certain times; and then I have, though at considerable distances, six female friends, unknown to each other, but all dear, very dear, to me. With them I do not much associate; not as deserting, and much less disliking, the male part of society, but as being unfit for it; not hardy nor grave, not knowing enough, nor sufficiently acquainted with the everyday concerns of men. But my beloved creatures have minds with which I can better assimilate. Think of you, I must; and of me, I must entreat that you would not be unmindful."
Nothing, however, was destined to come of these various flirtations or tendresses. The new duties at Trowbridge, with their multiplying calls upon his attention and sympathies, must soon have filled his time and attention when at work in his market town, with its flourishing woollen manufactures. And Crabbe was now to have opened to him new sources of interest in the neighbourhood. His growing reputation soon made him a welcome guest in many houses to which his mere position as vicar of Trowbridge might not have admitted him. Trowbridge was only a score or so of miles from Bath, and there were many noblemen's and gentlemen's seats in the country round. In this same county of Wilts, and not very far away, at his vicarage of Bremhill, was William Lisle Bowles, the graceful poet whose sonnets five-and-twenty years before had first roused to poetic utterance the young Coleridge and Charles Lamb when at Christ's Hospital. Through Bowles, Crabbe was introduced to the noble family at Bowood, where the third Marquis of Lansdowne delighted to welcome those distinguished in literature and the arts. Within these splendid walls Crabbe first made the acquaintance of Rogers, which soon ripened into an intimacy not without effect, I think, upon the remaining efforts of Crabbe as a poet. One immediate result was that Crabbe yielded to Rogers's strong advice to him to visit London, and take his place among the literary society of the day. This visit was paid in the summer of 1817, when Crabbe stayed in London from the middle of June to the end of July.
Crabbe's son rightly included in his Memoir several extracts from his father's Diary kept during this visit. They are little more than briefest entries of engagements, but serve to show the new and brilliant life to which the poet was suddenly introduced. He constantly dined and breakfasted with Rogers, where he met and was welcomed by Rogers's friends. His old acquaintance with Fox gave him the entree of Holland House. Thomas Campbell was specially polite to him, and really attracted by him. Crabbe visited the theatres, and was present at the farewell banquet given to John Kemble. Through Rogers and Campbell he was introduced to John Murray of Albemarle Street, who later became his publisher. He sat for his portrait to Pickersgill and Phillips, and saw the painting by the latter hanging on the Academy walls when dining at their annual banquet. Again, through an introduction at Bath to Samuel Hoare of Hampstead, Crabbe formed a friendship with him and his family of the most affectionate nature. During the first and all later visits to London Crabbe was most often their guest at the mansion on the summit of the famous "Northern Height," with which, after Crabbe's death, Wordsworth so touchingly associated his name, in the lines written on the death of the Ettrick Shepherd and his brother-poets:
"Our haughty life is crowned with darkness, Like London with its own black wreath, On which with thee, O Crabbe, forth looking, I gazed from Hampstead's breezy heath."
Between Samuel Hoare's hospitable roof and the Hummums in Covent Garden Crabbe seems to have alternated, according as his engagements in town required.
But although living, as the Diary shows, in daily intercourse with the literary and artistic world, tasting delights which were absolutely new to him, Crabbe never forgot either his humble friends in Wiltshire, or the claims of his own art. He kept in touch with Trowbridge, where his son John was in charge, and sends instructions from time to time as to poor pensioners and others who were not to be neglected in the weekly ministrations. At the same time, he seems rarely to have omitted the self-imposed task of adding daily to the pile of manuscript on which he was at work—the collection of stories to be subsequently issued as Tales of the Hall. Crabbe had resolved, in the face of whatever distractions, to write if possible a fixed amount every day. More than once in the Diary occur such entries as: "My thirty lines done; but not well, I fear." "Thirty lines to-day, but not yesterday—must work up." This anticipation of a method made famous later in the century by Anthony Trollope may account (as also in Trollope's case) for certain marked inequalities in the merit of the work thus turned out. At odd times and in odd places were these verses sometimes composed. On a certain Sunday morning in July 1817, after going to church at St. James's, Piccadilly (or was it the Chapel Royal?), Crabbe wandered eastward and found inspiration in the most unexpected quarter: "Write some lines in the solitude of Somerset House, not fifty yards from the Thames on one side, and the Strand on the other; but as quiet as the sands of Arabia. I am not quite in good humour with this day; but, happily, I cannot say why."
The last mysterious sentence is one of many scattered through, the Diary, which, aided by dashes and omission-marks by the editorial son, point to certain sentimentalisms in which Crabbe was still indulging, even in the vortex of fashionable gaieties. We gather throughout that the ladies he met interested him quite as much, or even more, than the distinguished men of letters, and there are allusions besides to other charmers at a distance. The following entry immediately precedes that of the Sunday just quoted:—
"14th.—Some more intimate conversation this morning with Mr. and Mrs. Moore. They mean to go to Trowbridge. He is going to Paris, but will not stay long. Mrs. Spencer's album. Agree to dine at Curzon Street. A welcome letter from ——. This makes the day more cheerful. Suppose it were so. Well, 'tis not! Go to Mr. Rogers, and take a farewell visit to Highbury. Miss Rogers. Promise to go when ——. Return early. Dine there, and purpose to see Mr. Moore and Mr. Rogers in the morning when they set out for Calais."
On the whole, however, Crabbe may have found, when these fascinating experiences were over, that there had been safety in a multitude. For he seems to have been equally charmed with Rogers's sister, and William Spencer's daughter, and the Countess of Bessborough, and a certain Mrs. Wilson,—and, like Miss Snevellicci's papa, to have "loved them every one."
Meanwhile Crabbe was working steadily, while in London, at his new poems. Though his minimum output was thirty lines a day, he often produced more, and on one occasion he records eighty lines as the fruit of a day's labour. During the year 1818 he was still at work, and in September of that year he writes to Mary Leadbeater that his verses "are not yet entirely ready, but do not want much that he can give them." He was evidently correcting and perfecting to the best of his ability, and (as I believe) profiting by the intellectual stimulus of his visit to London, as well as by the higher standards of versification that he had met with, even in writers inferior to himself. The six weeks in London had given him advantages he had never enjoyed before. In his early days under Burke's roof he had learned much from Burke himself, and from Johnson and Fox, but he was then only a promising beginner. Now, thirty-five years later, he met Rogers, Wordsworth, Campbell, Moore, as social equals, and having, like them, won a public for himself. When his next volumes appeared, the workmanship proved, as of old, unequal, but here and there Crabbe showed a musical ear, and an individuality of touch of a different order from anything he had achieved before. Mr. Courthope and other critics hold that there are passages in Crabbe's earliest poems, such as The Village, which have a metrical charm he never afterwards attained. But I strongly suspect that in such passages Crabbe had owed much to the revising hand of Burke, Johnson, and Fox.
In the spring of 1819 Crabbe was again in town, visiting at Holland House, and dining at the Thatched House with the "Literary Society," of which he had been elected a member, and which to-day still dines and prospers. He was then preparing for the publication of his new Tales, from the famous house in Albemarle Street. Two years before, in 1817, on the strength doubtless of Rogers's strong recommendation, Murray had made a very liberal offer for the new poems, and the copyright of all Crabbe's previous works. For these, together, Murray had offered three thousand pounds. Strangely enough, Rogers was at first dissatisfied with the offer, holding that the sum should be paid for the new volumes alone. He and a friend (possibly Campbell), who had conducted the negotiation, accordingly went off to the house of Longman to see if they could not get better terms. To their great discomfiture the Longmans only offered L1000 for the privilege that Murray had valued at three times the amount; and Crabbe and his friends were placed in a difficult position. A letter of Moore to John Murray many years afterwards, when Crabbe's Memoir was in preparation, tells the sequel of the story, and it may well be given in his words:
"In this crisis it was that Mr. Rogers and myself, anxious to relieve our poor friend from his suspense, called upon you, as you must well remember, in Albemarle Street; and seldom have I watched a countenance with more solicitude, or heard words that gave me much more pleasure than when, on the subject being mentioned, you said 'Oh! yes. I have heard from Mr. Crabbe, and look upon the matter as all settled.' I was rather pressed, I remember, for time that morning, having an appointment on some business of my own, but Mr. Rogers insisted that I should accompany him to Crabbe's lodgings, and enjoy the pleasure of seeing him relieved from his suspense. We found him sitting in his room, alone, and expecting the worst; but soon dissipated all his fears by the agreeable intelligence which we brought.
"When he received the bills for L3000, we earnestly advised that he should, without delay, deposit them in some safe hands; but no—he must take them with him to Trowbridge, and show them to his son John. They would hardly believe in his good luck, at home, if they did not see the bills. On his way down to Trowbridge, a friend at Salisbury, at whose house he rested (Mr. Everett, the banker), seeing that he carried these bills loosely in his waistcoat pocket, requested to be allowed to take charge of them for him: but with equal ill success. 'There was no fear,' he said, 'of his losing them, and he must show them to his son John.'"
It was matter of common knowledge in the literary world of Crabbe's day that John Murray did not on this occasion make a very prudent bargain, and that in fact he lost heavily by his venture. No doubt his offer was based upon the remarkable success of Crabbe's two preceding poems. The Borough had passed through six editions in the same number of years, and the Tales reached a fifth edition within two years of publication. But for changes in progress in the poetic taste of the time, Murray might safely have anticipated a continuance of Crabbe's popularity. But seven years had elapsed since the appearance of the Tales, and in these seven years much had happened. Byron had given to the world one by one the four cantos of Childe Harold, as well as other poems rich in splendid rhetoric and a lyric versatility far beyond Crabbe's reach. Wordsworth's two volumes in 1815 contained by far the most important and representative of his poems, and these were slowly but surely winning him a public of his own, intellectual and thoughtful if not as yet numerous. John Keats had made two appearances, in 1817 and 1818, and the year following the publication of Crabbe's Tales of the Hall was to add to them the Odes and other poems constituting the priceless volume of 1820—Lamia and other Poems. Again, for the lovers of fiction—whom, as I have said, Crabbe had attracted quite as strongly as the lovers of verse—Walter Scott had produced five or six of his finest novels, and was adding to the circle of his admirers daily. By the side of this fascinating prose, and still more fascinating metrical versatility, Crabbe's resolute and plodding couplets might often seem tame and wearisome. Indeed, at this juncture, the rhymed heroic couplet, as a vehicle for the poetry of imagination, was tottering to its fall, though it lingered for many years as the orthodox form for university prize poems, and for occasional didactic or satirical effusions. Crabbe, very wisely, remained faithful to the metre. For his purpose, and with his subjects and special gifts, none probably would have served him better. For narrative largely blended with the analytical and the epigrammatic method neither the stanza nor blank-verse (had he ever mastered it) would have sufficed. But in Crabbe's last published volumes it was not only the metre that was to seem flat and monotonous in the presence of new proofs of the boundless capabilities of verse. The reader would not make much progress in these volumes without discovering that the depressing incidents of life, its disasters and distresses, were still Crabbe's prevailing theme. John Murray in the same season published Rogers's Human Life and Crabbe's Tales of the Hall. The publisher sent Crabbe a copy of the former, and he acknowledged it in a few lines as follows:
"I am anxious that Mr. Rogers should have all the success he can desire. I am more indebted to him than I could bear to think of, if I had not the highest esteem. It will give me great satisfaction to find him cordially admired. His is a favourable picture, and such he loves so do I, but men's vices and follies come into my mind, and spoil my drawing."
Assuredly no more striking antithesis to Crabbe's habitual impressions of human life can be found than in the touching and often beautiful couplets of Rogers, a poet as neglected today as Crabbe. Rogers's picture of wedded happiness finds no parallel, I think, anywhere in the pages of his brother-poet:—
"Across the threshold led, And every tear kissed off as soon as shed, His house she enters, there to be a light Shining within, when all without is night; A guardian angel o'er his life presiding, Doubling his pleasures, and his cares dividing! How oft her eyes read his; her gentle mind To all his wishes, all his thoughts, inclined; Still subject—ever on the watch to borrow Mirth of his mirth, and sorrow of his sorrow. The soul of music slumbers in the shell, Till waked to rapture by the master's spell; And feeling hearts—touch them but rightly—pour A thousand melodies unheard before."
It may be urged that Rogers exceeds in one direction as unjustifiably as Crabbe in the opposite. But there is room in poetry for both points of view, though the absolute—the Shakespearian—grasp of Human Life may be truer and more eternally convincing than either.
THE TALES OF THE HALL
The Tales of the Hall were published by John Murray in June 1819, in two handsome octavo volumes, with every advantage of type, paper, and margin. In a letter of Crabbe to Mrs. Leadbeater, in October 1817, he makes reference to these Tales, already in preparation. He tells his correspondent that "Remembrances" was the title for them proposed by his friends. We learn from another source that a second title had been suggested, "Forty Days—a Series of Tales told at Binning Hall." Finally Mr. Murray recommended Tales of the Hall, and this was adopted.
In the same letter to Mrs. Leadbeater, Crabbe writes: "I know not how to describe the new, and probably (most probably) the last work I shall publish. Though a village is the scene of meeting between my two principal characters, and gives occasion to other characters and relations in general, yet I no more describe the manners of village inhabitants. My people are of superior classes, though not the most elevated; and, with a few exceptions, are of educated and cultivated minds and habits." In making this change Crabbe was also aware that some kind of unity must be given to those new studies of human life. And he found at least a semblance of this unity in ties of family or friendship uniting the tellers of them. Moreover Crabbe, who had a wide and even intimate knowledge of English, poetry, was well acquainted with the Canterbury Tales, and he bethought him that he would devise a framework. And the plan he worked out was as follows:
"The Hall" under whose roof the stories and conversations arise is a gentleman's house, apparently in the eastern counties, inhabited by the elder of two brothers, George and Richard. George, an elderly bachelor, who had made a sufficient fortune in business, has retired to this country seat, which stands upon the site of a humbler dwelling where George had been born and spent his earliest years. The old home of his youth had subsequently passed into the hands of a man of means, who had added to it, improved the surroundings, and turned it into a modern and elegant villa. It was again in the market when George was seeking a retreat for his old age, and he purchased it—glad, even under the altered conditions, to live again among the loved surroundings of his childhood.
George has a half-brother, Richard, much younger than himself. They are the children of the same mother who, some years after her first widowhood, had married an Irish gentleman, of mercurial habit, by whom she had this second child. George had already left home to earn his living, with the consequence that the two brothers had scarcely ever met until the occasion upon which the story opens. Richard, after first trying the sea as a profession, had entered the army during the war with Napoleon; distinguished himself in the Peninsula; and finally returned to his native country, covered with glory and enjoying a modest pension. He woos and wins the daughter of a country clergyman, marries, and finds a young family growing up around him. He is filled with a desire to resume friendly relations with his half-brother George, but is deterred from making the first advances. George, hearing of this through a common friend, cordially responds, and Richard is invited to spend a few weeks at Binning Hall. The two brothers, whose bringing up had been so different, and whose ideas and politics were far removed, nevertheless find their mutual companionship very pleasant, and every evening over their port wine relate their respective adventures and experiences, while George has also much to tell of his friends and neighbours around him. The clergyman of the parish, a former fellow of his college, often makes a third at these meetings; and thus a sufficient variety of topic is insured. The tales that these three tell, with the conversations arising out of them, form the subject matter of these Tales of the Hall. Crabbe devised a very pleasant means of bringing the brother's visit to a close. When the time originally proposed for the younger brother's stay is nearing its end, the brothers prepare to part. At first, the younger is somewhat disconcerted that his elder brother seemed to take his departure so little to heart. But this display of indifference proves to be only an amiable ruse on the part of George. On occasion of a final ride together through the neighbouring country, George asks for his brother's opinion about a purchase he has recently made, of a pleasant house and garden adjoining his own property. It then turns out that the generous George has bought the place as a home for his brother, who will in future act as George's agent or steward. On approaching and entering the house, Richard finds his wife and children, who have been privately informed of the arrangement, already installed, and eagerly waiting to welcome husband and father to this new and delightful home.
Throughout the development of this story with its incidental narratives, Crabbe has managed, as in previous poems, to make large use of his own personal experience. The Hall proves to be a modern gentleman's residence constructed out of a humbler farmhouse by additions and alterations in the building and its surroundings, which was precisely the fate which had befallen Mr. Tovell's old house which had come to the Crabbe family, and had been parted with by them to one of the Suffolk county families. "Moated Granges" were common in Norfolk and Suffolk. Mr. Tovel's house had had a moat, and this too had been a feature of George's paternal home:
"It was an ancient, venerable Hall, And once surrounded by a moat and wall; A part was added by a squire of taste Who, while unvalued acres ran to waste, Made spacious rooms, whence he could look about, And mark improvements as they rose without; He fill'd the moat, he took the wall away, He thinn'd the park and bade the view be gay."
In this instance, the squire who had thus altered the property had been forced to sell it, and George was thus able to return to the old surroundings of his boyhood. In the third book, Boys at School, George relates some of his recollections, which include the story of a school-fellow, who having some liking for art but not much talent, finds his ambitions defeated, and dies of chagrin in consequence. This was in fact the true story of a brother of Crabbe's wife, Mr. James Elmy. Later, again, in the work the rector of the parish is described, and the portrait drawn is obviously that of Crabbe himself, as he appeared to his Dissenting parishioners at Muston:
"'A moral teacher!' some, contemptuous, cried; He smiled, but nothing of the fact denied, Nor, save by his fair life, to charge so strong replied. Still, though he bade them not on aught rely That was their own, but all their worth deny, They called his pure advice his cold morality.
* * * * *
He either did not, or he would not see, That if he meant a favourite priest to be, He must not show, but learn of them, the way To truth—he must not dictate, but obey; They wish'd him not to bring them further light, But to convince them that they now were right And to assert that justice will condemn All who presumed to disagree with them: In this he fail'd, and his the greater blame, For he persisted, void of fear or shame."
There is a touch of bitterness in these lines that is unmistakably that of a personal grievance, even if the poet's son had not confirmed the inference in a foot-note.
Book IV. is devoted to the Adventures of Richard, which begin with his residence with his mother near a small sea-port (evidently Aldeburgh); and here we once more read of the boy, George Crabbe, watching and remembering every aspect of the storms, and making friends with the wives and children of the sailors and the smugglers:
"I loved to walk where none had walk'd before, About the rocks that ran along the shore; Or far beyond the sight of men to stray, And take my pleasure when I lost my way; For then 'twas mine to trace the hilly heath, And all the mossy moor that lies beneath: Here had I favourite stations, where I stood And heard the murmurs of the ocean-flood, With not a sound beside except when flew Aloft the lapwing, or the grey curlew, Who with wild notes my fancied power defied, And mock'd the dreams of solitary pride."
And as Crabbe evidently resorts gladly to personal experiences to make out the material for his work, the same also holds with regard to the incidental Tales. Crabbe refers in his Preface to two of these as not of his own invention, and his son, in the Notes, admits the same of others. One, as we have seen, happened in the Elmy family; another was sent him by a friend in Wiltshire, to which county the story belonged; while the last in the series, and perhaps the most painful of all, Smugglers, and Poachers was told to Crabbe by Sir Samuel Romilly, whom he had met at Hampstead, only a few weeks before Romilly's own tragic death. Probably other tales, not referred to by Crabbe or his son, were also encountered by the poet in his intercourse with his parishioners, or submitted to him by his friends. We might infer this from the singular inequality, in interest and poetical opportunity, of the various plots of these stories. Some of them are assuredly not such as any poet would have sat down and elaborated for himself, and it is strange how little sense Crabbe seems to have possessed as to which were worth treating, or could even admit of artistic treatment at all. A striking instance is afforded by the strange and most unpleasing history, entitled Lady Barbara: or, The Ghost.
The story is as follows: A young and beautiful lady marries early a gentleman of good family who dies within a year of their marriage. In spite of many proposals she resolves to remain a widow; and for the sake of congenial society and occupation, she finds a home in the family of a pious clergyman, where she devotes herself to his young children, and makes herself useful in the parish. Her favourite among the children is a boy, George, still in the schoolroom. The boy grows apace; goes to boarding-school and college; and is on the point of entering the army, when he discovers that he is madly in love with the lady, still an inmate of the house, who had "mothered him" when a child. No ages are mentioned, but we may infer that the young man is then about two and twenty, and the lady something short of forty. The position is not unimaginable, though it may be uncommon. The idea of marrying one who had been to her as a favourite child, seems to the widow in the first instance repulsive and almost criminal. But it turns out that there is another reason in the background for her not re-entering the marriage state, which she discloses to the ardent youth. It appears that the widow had once had a beloved brother who had died early. Those two had been brought up by an infidel father, who had impressed on his children the absurdity of all such ideas as immortality. The children had often discussed and pondered over this subject together, and had made a compact that whichever of them died first should, if possible, appear to the survivor, and thus solve the awful problem of a future life. The brother not long after died in foreign parts. Immediately after his death, before the sister heard the news, the brother's ghost appeared in a dream, or vision, to the sister, and warned her in solemn tones against ever marrying a second time. The spirit does not appear to have given any reasons, but his manner was so impressive and so unmistakable that the lady had thus far regarded it as an injunction never to be disobeyed. On hearing this remarkable story, the young man, George, argues impatiently against the trustworthiness of dreams, and is hardly silenced by the widow showing him on her wrist the mark still remaining where the spirit had seized and pressed her hand. In fine, the impassioned suitor prevails over these superstitious terrors, as he reckons them, of the lady—and they become man and wife.
The reader is here placed in a condition of great perplexity, and his curiosity becomes breathless. The sequel is melancholy indeed. After a few months' union, the young man, whose plausible eloquence had so moved the widow, tires of his wife, ill-treats her, and breaks her heart. The Psychical Society is avenged, and the ghost's word was worth at least "a thousand pounds." It is difficult for us to take such a story seriously, but it must have interested Crabbe deeply, for he has expended upon it much of his finest power of analysis, and his most careful writing. As we have seen, the subject of dreams had always had a fascination for him, of a kind not unconnected perhaps with the opium-habit. The story, however it was to be treated, was unpromising; but as the denouement was what it proved to be, the astonishing thing is that Crabbe should not have felt the dramatic impropriety of putting into the young man's mouth passages of an impressive, and almost Shakespearian, beauty such as are rare indeed in his poetry. The following lines are not indeed placed within inverted commas, but the pronoun "I" is retained, and they are apparently intended for something passing in the young suitor's mind:
"O! tell me not of years,—can she be old? Those eyes, those lips, can man unmoved behold? Has time that bosom chill'd? are cheeks so rosy cold? No, she is young, or I her love t'engage Will grow discreet, and that will seem like age: But speak it not; Death's equalising age Levels not surer than Love's stronger charm, That bids all inequalities be gone, That laughs at rank, that mocks comparison. There is not young or old, if Love decrees; He levels orders, he confounds degrees: There is not fair, or dark, or short, or tall, Or grave, or sprightly—Love reduces all; He makes unite the pensive and the gay, Gives something here, takes something there away; From each abundant good a portion takes, And for each want a compensation makes; Then tell me not of years—Love, power divine, Takes, as he wills, from hers, and gives to mine."
In those fine lines it is no doubt Crabbe himself that speaks, and not the young lover, who was to turn out in the sequel an unparalleled "cad." But then, what becomes of dramatic consistency, and the imperative claims of art?
In the letter to Mrs. Leadbeater already cited Crabbe writes as to his forthcoming collection of Tales: "I do not know, on a general view, whether my tragic or lighter Tales, etc., are most in number. Of those equally well executed the tragic will, I suppose, make the greater impression." Crabbe was right in this forecast. Whether more or less in number, the "tragic" Tales far surpass the "lighter" in their effect on the reader, in the intensity of their gloom. Such stories as that of Lady Barbara, Delay has Danger, The Sisters, Ellen, Smugglers and Poachers, Richard's story of Ruth, and the elder brother's account of his own early attachment, with its miserable sequel—all these are of a poignant painfulness. Human crime, error, or selfishness working life-long misery to others—this is the theme to which Crabbe turns again and again, and on which he bestows a really marvellous power of analysis. There is never wanting, side by side with these, what Crabbe doubtless believed to be the compensating presence of much that is lovable in human character, patience, resignation, forgiveness. But the resultant effect, it must be confessed, is often the reverse of cheering. The fine lines of Wordsworth as to