"Sorrow that is not sorrow, but delight; And miserable love, that is not pain To hear of, for the glory that redounds Therefrom to human kind, and what we are,"
fail to console us as we read these later stories of Crabbe. We part from too many of them not, on the whole, with a livelier faith in human nature. We are crushed by the exhibition of so much that is abnormally base and sordid.
The Tales of the Hall are full of surprises even to those familiar with Crabbe's earlier poems. He can still allow couplets to stand which are perilously near to doggerel; and, on the other hand, when his deepest interest in the fortunes of his characters is aroused, he rises at times to real eloquence, if never to poetry's supremest heights. Moreover, the poems contain passages of description which, for truth to Nature, touched by real imagination, are finer than anything he had yet achieved. The story entitled Delay has Danger contains the fine picture of an autumn landscape seen through the eyes of the miserable lover—the picture which dwelt so firmly in the memory of Tennyson:
"That evening all in fond discourse was spent, When the sad lover to his chamber went, To think on what had pass'd, to grieve, and to repent: Early he rose, and looked with many a sigh On the red light that fill'd the eastern sky: Oft had he stood before, alert and gay, To hail the glories of the new-born day; But now dejected, languid, listless, low, He saw the wind upon the water blow, And the cold stream curl'd onward as the gale From the pine-hill blew harshly down the dale; On the right side the youth a wood survey'd, With all its dark intensity of shade; Where the rough wind alone was heard to move, In this, the pause of nature and of love, When now the young are rear'd, and when the old, Lost to the tie, grow negligent and cold— Far to the left he saw the huts of men, Half hid in mist that hung upon the fen; Before him swallows, gathering for the sea, Took their short flights, and twitter'd on the lea; And near the bean-sheaf stood, the harvest done, And slowly blacken'd in the sickly sun; All these were sad in nature, or they took Sadness from him, the likeness of his look, And of his mind—he ponder'd for a while, Then met his Fanny with a borrow'd smile."
The entire story, from which this is an extract, is finely told, and the fitness of the passage is beyond dispute. At other times the description is either so much above the level of the narrative, or below it, as to be almost startling. In the very first pages of Tales of the Hall, in the account of the elder brother's early retirement from business, occur the following musical lines:
"He chose his native village, and the hill He climb'd a boy had its attraction still; With that small brook beneath, where he would stand And stooping fill the hollow of his hand To quench th' impatient thirst—then stop awhile To see the sun upon the waters smile, In that sweet weariness, when, long denied, We drink and view the fountain that supplied The sparkling bliss—and feel, if not express, Our perfect ease in that sweet weariness."
Yet it is only a hundred lines further on that, to indicate the elder brother's increasing interest in the graver concerns of human thought, Crabbe can write:
"He then proceeded, not so much intent, But still in earnest, and to church he went Although they found some difference in their creed, He and his pastor cordially agreed; Convinced that they who would the truth obtain By disputation, find their efforts vain; The church he view'd as liberal minds will view, And there he fix'd his principles and pew."
Among those surprises to which I have referred is the apparently recent development in the poet of a lyrical gift, the like of which he had not exhibited before. Crabbe had already written two notable poems in stanzas, Sir Eustace Grey and that other painful but exceedingly powerful drama in monologue, The Hall of Justice. But since the appearance of his last volumes, Crabbe had formed some quite novel poetical friendships, and it would seem likely that association with Rogers, though he saw and felt that elegant poet's deficiencies as a painter of human life, had encouraged him to try an experiment in his friend's special vein. One of the most depressing stories in the series is that of the elder brother's ill-fated passion for a beautiful girl, to whom he had been the accidental means of rendering a vital service in rescuing her and a companion from the "rude uncivil kine" in a meadow. To the image of this girl, though he never set eyes on her again for many years, he had remained faithful. The next meeting, when at last it came, brought the most terrible of disillusions. Sent by his chief to transact certain business with a wealthy banker ("Clutterbuck & Co."), the young merchant calls at a villa where the banker at times resided, and finds that the object of his old love and his fondest dreams is there installed as the banker's mistress. She is greatly moved at the sight of the youthful lover of old days, who, with more chivalry than prudence, offers forgiveness if she will break off this degrading alliance. She cannot resolve to take the step. She has become used to luxury and continuous amusement, and she cannot face the return to a duller domesticity. Finally, however, she dies penitent, and it is the contemplation of her life and death that works a life-long change in the ambitions and aims of the old lover. He wearies of money-making, and retires to lead a country life, where he may be of some good to his neighbours, and turn to some worthy use the time that may be still allowed him. The story is told with real pathos and impressive force. But the picture is spoiled by the tasteless interpolation of a song which the unhappy girl sings to her lover, at the very moment apparently when she has resolved that she can never be his:
"My Damon was the first to wake The gentle flame that cannot die; My Damon is the last to take The faithful bosom's softest sigh; The life between is nothing worth, O! cast it from thy thought away; Think of the day that gave it birth, And this its sweet returning day.
"Buried be all that has been done, Or say that nought is done amiss; For who the dangerous path can shun In such bewildering world as this? But love can every fault forgive, Or with a tender look reprove; And now let nought in memory live, But that we meet, and that we love."
The lines are pretty enough, and may be described as a blend of Tom Moore and Rogers. A similar lyric, in the story called The Sisters, might have come straight from the pen which has given us "Mine be a cot beside a hill," and is not so wholly irrelevant to its context as the one just cited.
Since Crabbe's death in 1832, though he has never been without a small and loyal band of admirers, no single influence has probably had so much effect in reviving interest in his poetry as that of Edward FitzGerald, the translator of Omar Khayyam. FitzGerald was born and lived the greater part of his life in Suffolk, and Crabbe was a native of Aldeburgh, and lived in the neighbourhood till he was grown to manhood. This circumstance alone might not have specially interested FitzGerald in the poet, but for the fact that the temperament of the two men was somewhat the same, and that both dwelt naturally on the depressing sides of human life. But there were other coincidences to create a strong tie between FitzGerald and the poet's family. When FitzGerald's father went to live at Boulge Hall, near Woodbridge, in 1835, Crabbe's son George had recently been presented to the vicarage of the adjoining parish of Bredfield (FitzGerald's native village), which he continued to hold until his death in 1857. During these two and twenty years, FitzGerald and George Crabbe remained on the closest terms of friendship, which was continued with George Crabbe's son (a third George), who became ultimately rector of Merton in Norfolk. It was at his house, it will be remembered, that FitzGerald died suddenly in the summer of 1883. Through this long association with the family FitzGerald was gradually acquiring information concerning the poet, which even the son's Biography had not supplied. Readers of FitzGerald's delightful Letters will remember that there is no name more constantly referred to than that of Crabbe. Whether writing to Fanny Kemble, or Frederick Tennyson, or Lowell, he is constantly quoting him, and recommending him. During the thirty years that followed Crabbe's death his fame had been on the decline, and poets of different and greater gifts had taken his place. FitzGerald had noted this fact with ever-increasing regret, and longed to revive the taste for a poet of whose merits he had himself no doubt. He discerned moreover that even those who had read in their youth The Village and The Borough had been repelled by the length, and perhaps by the monotonous sadness, of the Tales of the Hall. It was for this reason apparently (and not because he assigned a higher place to the later poetry than to the earlier) that he was led, after some years of misgiving, to prepare a volume of selections from this latest work of Crabbe's which might have the effect of tempting the reader to master it as a whole. Owing to the length and uniformity of Crabbe's verse, what was ordinarily called an "anthology" was out of the question. FitzGerald was restricted to a single method. He found that readers were impatient of Crabbe's longueurs. It occurred to him that while making large omissions he might preserve the story in each case, by substituting brief prose abstracts of the portions omitted. This process he applied to the Tales that pleased him most, leaving what he considered Crabbe's best passages untouched. As early as 1876 he refers to the selection as already made, and he printed it for private circulation in 1879. Finally, in 1882, he added a preface of his own, and published it with Quaritch in Piccadilly.
In his preface FitzGerald claims for Crabbe's latest work that the net impression left by it upon the reader is less sombre and painful than that left by his earlier poems. "It contains," he urges, "scarce anything of that brutal or sordid villainy of which one has more than enough in the poet's earlier work." Perhaps there is not so much of the "brutal or sordid," but then in The Parish Register or The Borough, the reader is in a way prepared for that ingredient, because the personages are the lawless and neglected poor of a lonely seaport. It is because, when he moves no longer among these, he yet finds vice and misery quite as abundant in "a village with its tidy homestead, and well-to-do tenants, within easy reach of a thriving country-town," that a certain shock is given to the reader. He discovers that all the evil passions intrude (like pale Death) into the comfortable villa as impartially as into the hovels at Aldeburgh. But FitzGerald had found a sufficient alleviation of the gloom in the framework of the Tales. The growing affection of the two brothers, as they come to know and understand each other better, is one of the consistently pleasant passages in Crabbe's writings. The concluding words of FitzGerald's preface, as the little volume is out of print and very scarce, I may be allowed to quote:—
"Is Crabbe then, whatever shape he may take, worth making room for in our over-crowded heads and libraries? If the verdict of such critics as Jeffrey and Wilson be set down to contemporary partiality or inferior 'culture,' there is Miss Austen, who is now so great an authority in the representation of genteel humanity, so unaccountably smitten with Crabbe in his worsted hose that she is said to have pleasantly declared he was the only man whom she would care to marry. If Sir Walter Scott and Byron are but unaesthetic judges of the poet, there is Wordsworth who was sufficiently exclusive in admitting any to the sacred brotherhood in which he still reigns, and far too honest to make any exception out of compliment to any one on any occasion—he did nevertheless thus write to the poet's son and biographer in 1834: 'Any testimony to the merit of your revered father's works would, I feel, be superfluous, if not impertinent. They will last from their combined merits as poetry and truth, full as long as anything that has been expressed in verse since they first made their appearance'—a period which, be it noted, includes all Wordsworth's own volumes except Yarrow Revisited, The Prelude, and The Borderers. And Wordsworth's living successor to the laurel no less participates with him in his appreciation of their forgotten brother. Almost the last time I met him he was quoting from memory that fine passage in Delay has Danger, where the late autumn landscape seems to borrow from the conscience-stricken lover who gazes on it the gloom which it reflects upon him; and in the course of further conversation on the subject Mr. Tennyson added, 'Crabbe has a world of his own'; by virtue of that original genius, I suppose, which is said to entitle and carry the possessor to what we call immortality."
Besides the stories selected for abridgment in the volume there were passages, from Tales not there included, which FitzGerald was never weary of citing in his letters, to show his friends how true a poet was lying neglected of men. One he specially loved is the description of an autumn day in The Maid's Story:—
"There was a day, ere yet the autumn closed, When, ere her wintry wars, the earth reposed; When from the yellow weed the feathery crown, Light as the curling smoke, fell slowly down; When the winged insect settled in our sight, And waited wind to recommence her flight; When the wide river was a silver sheet, And on the ocean slept th' unanchor'd fleet, When from our garden, as we looked above, There was no cloud, and nothing seemed to move."
Another passage, also in Crabbe's sweeter vein, forms the conclusion of the whole poem. It is where the elder brother hands over to the younger the country house that is to form the future home of his wife and children:—
"It is thy wife's, and will thy children's be, Earth, wood, and water! all for thine and thee. * * * * * There wilt thou soon thy own Matilda view, She knows our deed, and she approves it too; Before her all our views and plans were laid, And Jacques was there to explain and to persuade. Here on this lawn thy boys and girls shall run, And play their gambols when their tasks are done, There, from that window shall their mother view The happy tribe, and smile at all they do; While thou, more gravely, hiding thy delight Shalt cry, 'O! childish!' and enjoy the sight."
FitzGerald's selections are made with the skill and judgment we should expect from a critic of so fine a taste, but it may be doubted whether any degree of skill could have quite atoned for one radical flaw in his method. He seems to have had his own misgivings as to whether he was not, by that method, giving up one real secret of Crabbe's power. After quoting Sir Leslie Stephen's most true remark that "with all its short-and long-comings Crabbe's better work leaves its mark on the reader's mind and memory as only the work of genius can, while so many a more splendid vision of the fancy slips away, leaving scarce a mark behind." FitzGerald adds: "If this abiding impression result (as perhaps in the case of Richardson or Wordsworth) from being, as it were, soaked in through the longer process by which the man's peculiar genius works, any abridgement, whether of omission or epitome, will diminish from the effect of the whole." FitzGerald is unquestionably in sight of a truth here. The parallel with Wordsworth is indeed not exact, for the best of Wordsworth's poetry neither requires nor admits of condensation. The Excursion might benefit by omission and compression, but not The Solitary Reaper, nor The Daffodils. But the example of Richardson is fairly in point. Abridgments of Clarissa Harlowe have been attempted, but probably without any effect on the number of its readers. The power of Richardson's method does actually lie in the "soaking process" to which FitzGerald refers. Nor is it otherwise with Crabbe. The fascination which his readers find in him—readers not perhaps found in the ranks of those who prefer their poetry on "hand-made paper"—is really the result of the slow and patient dissection of motive and temptation, the workings of conscience, the gradual development of character. These processes are slow, and Crabbe's method of presenting them is slow, but he attains his end. A distinction has lately been drawn between "literary Poetry," and "Poetry which is Literature." Crabbe's is rarely indeed that of the former class. It cannot be denied that it has taken its place in the latter.
The apology for Crabbe's lengthiness might almost be extended to the singular inequalities of his verse. FitzGerald joins all other critics in regretting his carelessness, and indeed the charge can hardly be called harsh. A poet who habitually insists on producing thirty lines a day, whether or no the muse is willing, can hardly escape temptations to carelessness. Crabbe's friends and other contemporaries noted it, and expressed surprise at the absence in Crabbe of the artistic conscience. Wordsworth spoke to him on the subject, and ventured to express regret that he did not take more pains with the workmanship of his verse, and reports that Crabbe's only answer was "it does not matter." Samuel Rogers had related to Wordsworth a similar experience. "Mr. Rogers once told me that he expressed his regret to Crabbe that he wrote in his later works so much less correctly than in his earlier. 'Yes,' replied he, 'but then I had a reputation to make; now I can afford to relax.'" This is of course very sad, and, as has already been urged, Crabbe's earlier works had the advantage of much criticism, and even correction from his friends. But however this may be, it may fairly be urged that in a "downright" painter of human life, with that passion for realism which Crabbe was one of the first to bring back into our literature, mere "polish" would have hindered, not helped, the effects he was bent on producing. It is difficult in polishing the heroic couplet not to produce the impression of seeking epigrammatic point. In Crabbe's strenuous and merciless analyses of human character his power would have been often weakened, had attention been diverted from the whole to the parts, and from the matter to the manner. The "finish" of Gray, Goldsmith, and Rogers suited exquisitely with their pensive musings on Human Life. It was otherwise with the stern presentment of such stories of human sin and misery as Edward Shore or Delay has Danger.
LAST YEARS AT TROWBRIDGE
The last thirteen years of Crabbe's life were spent at Trowbridge, varied by occasional absences among hiss friends at Bath, and in the neighbourhood, and by annual visits of greater length to the family of Samuel Hoare at Hampstead. Meantime his son John was resident with him at Trowbridge, and the parish and parishioners were not neglected. From Mrs. Hoare's house on Hampstead Heath it was not difficult to visit his literary friends in London; and Wordsworth, Southey, and others, occasionally stayed with the family. But as early as 1820, Crabbe became subject to frequent severe attacks of neuralgia (then called tic douloureux), and this malady, together with the gradual approach of old age, made him less and less able to face the fatigue of London hospitalities.
Notwithstanding his failing health, and not infrequent absence from his parish—for he occasionally visited the Isle of Wight, Hastings, and other watering-places with his Hampstead friends—Crabbe was living down at Trowbridge much of the unpopularity with which he had started. The people were beginning to discover what sterling qualities of heart existed side by side with defects of tact and temper, and the lack of sympathy with certain sides of evangelical teaching. His son tells us, and may be trusted, that his father's personal piety deepened in his declining years, an influence which could not be ineffectual. Children, moreover, were growing up in the family, and proved a new source of interest and happiness. Pucklechurch. was not far away, and his son George's eldest girl, Caroline, as she approached her fourth birthday, began to receive from him the tenderest of letters.
The most important incident in Crabbe's life during this period was his visit to Walter Scott in Edinburgh in the early autumn of 1822. In the spring of that year, Crabbe had for the first time met Scott in London, and Scott had obtained from him a promise that he would visit him in Scotland in the autumn. It so fell out that George the Fourth, who had been crowned in the previous year, and was paying a series of Coronation progresses through his dominions, had arranged to visit Edinburgh in the August of this year. Whether Crabbe deliberately chose the same period for his own visit, or stumbled on it accidentally, and Scott did not care to disappoint his proposed guest, is not made quite clear by Crabbe's biographer. Scott had to move with all his family to his house in Edinburgh for the great occasion, and he would no doubt have much preferred to receive Crabbe at Abbotsford. Moreover, it fell to Scott, as the most distinguished man of letters and archaeologist in Edinburgh, to organise all the ceremonies and the festivities necessary for the King's reception. In Lockhart's phrase, Scott stage-managed the whole business. And it was on Scott's return from receiving the King on board the Royal yacht on the 14th of August that he found awaiting him in Castle Street one who must have been an inconvenient guest. The incidents of this first meeting are so charmingly related by Lockhart that I cannot resist repeating them in his words, well known though they may be:—
"On receiving the poet on the quarter-deck, his Majesty called for a bottle of Highland whisky, and having drunk his health in this national liquor, desired a glass to be filled for him. Sir Walter, after draining his own bumper, made a request that the king would condescend to bestow on him the glass out of which his Majesty had just drunk his health: and this being granted, the precious vessel was immediately wrapped up and carefully deposited in what he conceived to be the safest part of his dress. So he returned with it to Castle Street; but—to say nothing at this moment of graver distractions—on reading his house he found a guest established there of a sort rather different from the usual visitors of the time. The Poet Crabbe, to whom he had been introduced when last in London by Mr. Murray of Albemarle Street, after repeatedly promising to follow up the acquaintance by an excursion to the North, had at last arrived in the midst of these tumultuous preparations for the royal advent. Notwithstanding all such impediments, he found his quarters ready for him, and Scott entering, wet and hurried, embraced the venerable man with brotherly affection. The royal gift was forgotten—the ample skirt of the coat within which it had been packed, and which he had hitherto held cautiously in front of his person, slipped back to its more usual position—he sat down beside Crabbe, and the glass was crushed to atoms. His scream and gesture made his wife conclude that he had sat down on a pair of scissors, or the like: but very little harm had been done except the breaking of the glass, of which alone he had been thinking. This was a damage not to be repaired: as for the scratch that accompanied it, its scar was of no great consequence, as even when mounting the 'cat-dath, or battle-garment' of the Celtic Club, he adhered, like his hero, Waverley, to the trews."
What follows in Lockhart's pages is also too interesting, as regards Scott's visitor himself, to be omitted. The Highland clans, or what remained of them, were represented on the occasion, and added greatly to the picturesqueness of the procession and other pageantry. And this is what occurred on the morning after the meeting of Scott and his guest:—
"By six o'clock next morning Sir Walter, arrayed in the 'Garb of old Gaul,' (which he had of the Campbell tartan, in memory of one of his great-grandmothers) was attending a muster of these gallant Celts in the Queen Street Gardens, where he had the honour of presenting them with it set of colours, and delivered a suitable exhortation, crowned with their rapturous applause. Some members of the Club, all of course in their full costume, were invited to breakfast with him. He had previously retired for a little to his library, and when he entered the parlour, Mr. Crabbe, dressed in the highest style of professional neatness and decorum, with buckles in his shoes, and whatever was then befitting an English clergyman of his years and station, was standing in the midst of half-a-dozen stalwart Highlanders, exchanging elaborate civilities with them in what was at least meant to be French. He had come into the room shortly before, without having been warned about such company, and hearing the party conversing together in an unknown tongue, the polite old man had adopted, in his first salutation, what he considered as the universal language. Some of the Celts, on their part, took him for some foreign Abbe or Bishop, and were doing their best to explain to him that they were not the wild savages for which, from the startled glance he had thrown on their hirsute proportions, there seemed but too much reason to suspect he had taken them; others, more perspicacious, gave in to the thing for the joke's sake; and there was high fun when Scott dissolved the charm of their stammering, by grasping Crabbe with one hand, and the nearest of these figures with the other, and greeted the whole group with the same hearty good-morning."
In spite, however, of banquets (at one of which Crabbe was present) and other constant calls upon his host's time and labour, the southern poet contrived to enjoy himself. He wandered into the oldest parts of Edinburgh, and Scott obtained for him the services of a friendly caddie to accompany him on some of these occasions lest the old parson should come to any harm. Lockhart, who was of the party in Castle Street, was very attentive to Scott's visitor, Crabbe had but few opportunities of seeing Scott alone. "They had," writes Lockhart, "but one quiet walk together, and it was to the ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel and Mushat's Cairn, which the deep impression made on Crabbe by The Heart of Midlothian had given him an earnest wish to see. I accompanied them; and the hour so spent—in the course of which the fine old man gave us some most touching anecdotes of his early struggles—was a truly delightful contrast to the bustle and worry of miscellaneous society which consumed so many of his few hours in Scotland. Scott's family were more fortunate than himself in this respect. They had from infancy been taught to reverence Crabbe's genius, and they now saw enough of him to make them think of him ever afterwards with tender affection."
Yet one more trait of Scott's interest in his guest should not be omitted. The strain upon Scott's strength of the King's visit was made more severe by the death during that fortnight of Scott's old and dear friend, William Erskine, only a few months before elevated to the bench, with the title of Lord Kinedder. Erskine had been irrecoverably wounded by the circulation of a cruel and unfounded slander upon his moral character. It so preyed on his mind that its effect was, in Scott's words, to "torture to death one of the most soft-hearted and sensitive of God's creatures." On the very day of the King's arrival he died, after high fever and delirium had set in, and his funeral, which Scott attended, followed in due course. "I am not aware," says Lockhart, "that I ever saw Scott in such a state of dejection as he was when I accompanied him and his friend Mr. Thomas Thomson from Edinburgh to Queensferry in attendance upon Lord Kinedder's funeral. Yet that was one of the noisiest days of the royal festival, and he had to plunge into some scene of high gaiety the moment after we returned. As we halted in Castle Street, Mr. Crabbe's mild, thoughtful face appeared at the window, and Scott said, on leaving me, 'Now for what our old friend there puts down as the crowning curse of his poor player in The Borough:—
"To hide in rant the heart-ache of the night."'"
There is pathos in the recollection that just ten years later when Scott lay in his study at Abbotsford—the strength of that noble mind slowly ebbing away—the very passage in The Borough just quoted was one of those he asked to have read to him. It is the graphic and touching account in Letter XII. of the "Strolling Players," and as the description of their struggles and their squalor fell afresh upon his ear, his own excursions into matters theatrical recurred to him, and he murmured smiling, "Ah! Terry won't like that! Terry won't like that!!"
The same year Crabbe was invited to spend Christmas at his old home, Belvoir Castle, but felt unable to face the fatigue in wintry weather. Meantime, among other occupations at home, he was finding time to write verse copiously. Twenty-one manuscript volumes were left behind him at his death. He seems to have said little about it at home, for his son tells us that in the last year of his father's life he learned for the first time that another volume of Tales was all but ready for the press. "There are in my recess at home," he writes to George, "where they have been long undisturbed, another series of such stories, in number and quantity sufficient for another octavo volume; and as I suppose they are much like the former in execution, and sufficiently different in events and characters, they may hereafter, in peaceable times, be worth something to you." A selection from those formed the Posthumous Poems, first given to the world in the edition of 1834. The Tales of the Hall, it may be supposed, had not quite justified the publisher's expectations. John Murray had sought to revive interest in the whole bulk of Crabbe's poetry, of which he now possessed the copyright, by commissioning Richard Westall, R.A., to produce a series of illustrations of the poems, thirty-one in number, engravings of which were sold in sets at two guineas. The original drawings, in delicate water-colour, in the present Mr. John Murray's possession, are sufficiently grim. The engravings, lacking the relief of colour, are even more so, and a rapid survey of the entire series amply shows how largely in Crabbe's subjects bulks the element of human misery. Crabbe was much flattered by this new tribute to his reputation, and dwells on it in one of his letters to Mrs. Leadbeater.
A letter written from Mrs. Hoare's house at Hampstead in June 1825 presents an agreeable picture of his holiday enjoyments:—
"My time passes I cannot tell how pleasantly when the pain leaves me. To-day I read one of my long stories to my friends and Mrs. Joanna Baillie and her sister. It was a task; but they encouraged me, and were, or seemed, gratified. I rhyme at Hampstead with a great deal of facility, for nothing interrupts me but kind calls to something pleasant; and though all this makes parting painful, it will, I hope, make me resolute to enter upon my duties diligently when I return. I am too much indulged. Except a return of pain, and that not severe, I have good health; and if my walks are not so long, they are more frequent. I have seen many things and many people; have seen Mr. Southey and Mr. Wordsworth; have been some days with Mr. Rogers, and at last have been at the Athenaeum, and purpose to visit the Royal Institution. I have been to Richmond in a steamboat; seen also the picture-galleries and some other exhibitions; but I passed one Sunday in London with discontent, doing no duty myself, nor listening to another; and I hope my uneasiness proceeded not merely from breaking a habit. We had a dinner social and pleasant, if the hours before it had been rightly spent; but I would not willingly pass another Sunday in the same manner. I have my home with my friends here (Mrs. Hoare's), and exchange it with reluctance for the Hummums occasionally. Such is the state of the garden here, in which I walk and read, that, in a morning like this, the smell of the flowers is fragrant beyond anything I ever perceived before. It is what I can suppose may be in Persia or other oriental countries—a Paradisiacal sweetness. I am told that I or my verses, or perhaps both, have abuse in a boot of Mr. Colburn's publishing, called The Spirit of the Times. I believe I felt something indignant; but my engraved seal dropped out of the socket and was lost, and I perceived this moved me much more than the Spirit of Mr. Hazlitt."
The reference is, of course, to Hazlitt's Spirit of the Age, then lately published In reviewing the poetry of his day Hazlitt has a chapter devoted to Campbell and Crabbe. The criticism on the latter is little more than a greatly over-drawn picture of Crabbe's choice of vice and misery for his subjects, and ignores entirely any other side of his genius, ending with the remark that he would long be "a thorn in the side of English poetry." Crabbe was wise in not attaching too much importance to Hazlitt's attack.
Joanna Baillie and her sister Agnes, mentioned in the letter just cited, saw much of Crabbe during his visits to Hampstead. A letter from Joanna to the younger George speaks, as do all his friends, of his growing kindliness and courtesy, but notes how often, in the matter of judging his fellow-creatures, his head and his heart were in antagonism. While at times Joanna was surprised and provoked by the charitable allowances the old parson made for the unworthy, at other times she noted also that she would hear him, when acts of others were the subject of praise, suggesting, "in a low voice as to himself," the possible mixture of less generous motives. The analytical method was clearly dominant in Crabbe always, and not merely when he wrote his poetry, and is itself the clue to much in his treatment of human nature.
Of Crabbe's simplicity and unworldliness in other matters Miss Baillie furnishes an amusing instance. She writes:—
"While he was staying with Mrs. Hoare a few years since I sent him one day the present of a blackcock, and a message with it that Mr. Crabbe should look at the bird before it was delivered to the cook, or something to that purpose. He looked at the bird as desired, and then went to Mrs. Hoare in some perplexity to ask whether he ought not to have it stuffed, instead of eating it. She could not, in her own house, tell him that it was simply intended for the larder, and he was at the trouble and expense of having it stuffed, lest I should think proper respect had not been put upon my present."
Altogether the picture presented in these last years of Crabbe's personality is that of a pious and benevolent old man, endearing himself to old and new friends, and with manners somewhat formal and overdone, representing perhaps what in his humbler Aldeburgh days he had imagined to be those of the upper circles, rather than what he had found them to be in his prosperous later days in London.
In the autumn of 1831 he was visiting his faithful and devoted friends, the Samuel Hoares, at their residence in Clifton. The house was apparently in Princes Buildings, or in the Paragon, for the poet describes accurately the scene that meets the eye from the back-windows of those pleasant streets:—
"I have to thank my friends for one of the most beautiful as well as comfortable rooms you could desire. I look from my window upon the Avon and its wooded and rocky bounds—the trees yet green. A vessel is sailing down, and here comes a steamer (Irish, I suppose). I have in view the end of the Cliff to the right, and on my left a wide and varied prospect over Bristol, as far as the eye can reach, and at present the novelty makes it very interesting. Clifton was always a favourite place with me. I have more strength and more spirits since my arrival at this place, and do not despair of giving a good account of my excursion on my return."
It is noteworthy that Crabbe, who as a young man witnessed the Lord George Gordon Riots of 1780, should, fifty years later, have been in Bristol during the disgraceful Reform Bill Rising of 1831, which, through the cowardice or connivance of the government of the day, went on unchecked to work such disastrous results to life and property. On October the 26th he writes to his son:—
"I have been with Mrs. Hoare at Bristol, where all appears still. Should anything arise to alarm, you may rely upon our care to avoid danger. Sir Charles Wetherell, to be sure, is not popular, nor is the Bishop, but I trust that both will be safe from violence—abuse they will not mind. The Bishop seems a good-humoured man, and, except by the populace, is greatly admired."
A few days later, however, he has to record that his views of the situation were not to be fulfilled. He writes:—
"Bristol, I suppose, never in the most turbulent times of old, witnessed such outrage. Queen's Square is but half standing; half is a smoking ruin. As you may be apprehensive for my safety, it is right to let you know that my friends and I are undisturbed, except by our fears for the progress of this mob-government, which is already somewhat broken into parties, who wander stupidly about, or sleep wherever they fall wearied with their work and their indulgence. The military are now in considerable force, and many men are sworn in as constables; many volunteers are met in Clifton Churchyard, with white round one arm to distinguish them, some with guns and the rest with bludgeons. The Mayor's house has been destroyed; the Bishop's palace plundered, but whether burned or not I do not know. This morning a party of soldiers attacked the crowd in the Square; some lives were lost, and the mob dispersed, whether to meet again is doubtful. It has been a dreadful time, but we may reasonably hope it is now over. People are frightened certainly, and no wonder, for it is evident these poor wretches would plunder to the extent of their power. Attempts were made to burn the Cathedral, but failed. Many lives were lost. To attempt any other subject now would be fruitless. We can think, speak, and write only of our fears, hopes, or troubles. I would have gone to Bristol to-day, but Mrs. Hoare was unwilling that I should. She thought, and perhaps rightly, that clergymen were marked objects. I therefore only went half-way, and of course could learn but little. All now is quiet and well."
In the former of these last quoted letters Crabbe refers sadly to the pain of parting from his old Hampstead friends,—a parting which he felt might well be the last. His anticipation was to be fulfilled. He left Clifton in November, and went direct to his son George, at Pucklechurch. He was able to preach twice for his son, who congratulated the old man on the power of his voice, and other encouraging signs of vigour. "I will venture a good sum, sir," he said "that you will be assisting me ten years hence." "Ten weeks" was Crabbe's answer, and the implied prediction was fulfilled almost to the day. After a fortnight at Pucklechurch, Crabbe returned to his own home at Trowbridge. Early in January he reported himself as more and more subject to drowsiness, which he accepted as sign of increasing weakness. Later in the month he was prostrated by a severe cold. Other complications supervened, and it soon became apparent that he could not rally. After a few days of much suffering, and pious resignation, he passed away on the third of February 1832, with his two sons and his faithful nurse by his side. The death of the rector was followed by every token of general affection and esteem. The past asperities of religious and political controversy had long ceased, and it was felt that the whole parish had lost a devout teacher and a generous friend. All he had written in The Borough and elsewhere as to the eccentricities of certain forms of dissent was forgotten, and all the Nonconformist ministers of the place and neighbourhood followed him to the grave. A committee was speedily formed to erect a monument over his grave in the chancel. The sculptor chosen produced a group of a type then common. "A figure representing the dying poet, casting his eyes on the sacred volume; two celestial beings, one looking on as if awaiting his departure." Underneath was inscribed, after the usual words telling his age, and period of his work at Trowbridge, the following not exaggerated tribute:—
"Born in humble life, he made himself what he was. By the force of his genius, He broke through the obscurity of his birth Yet never ceased to feel for the Less fortunate; Entering (as his work can testify) into The sorrows and deprivations Of the poorest of his parishioners; And so discharging the duties of his station as a Minister and a magistrate, As to acquire the respect and esteem Of all his neighbours. As a writer, he is well described by a great Contemporary, as 'Nature's sternest painter yet her best.'"
A fresh edition of Crabbe's complete works was at once arranged for by John Murray, to be edited by George Crabbe, the son, who was also to furnish the prefatory memoir. The edition appeared in 1834, in eight volumes. An engraving by Finden from Phillips's portrait of the poet was prefixed to the last volume, and each volume contained frontispieces and vignettes from drawings by Clarkson Stanfield of scenery or buildings connected with Crabbe's various residences in Suffolk and the Yale of Belvoir. The volumes were ably edited; the editor's notes, together with, quotations from Crabbe's earliest critics in the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews, were interesting and informing, and the illustrations happily chosen. But it is not so easy to acquiesce in an editorial decision on a more important matter. The eighth volume is occupied by a selection from the Tales left in manuscript by Crabbe, to which reference has already been made. The son, whose criticisms of his father are generally sound, evidently had misgivings concerning these from the first. In a prefatory note to this volume, the brothers (writing as executors) confess these misgivings. They were startled on reading the new poems in print at the manifest need of revision and correction before they could be given to the world. They delicately hint that the meaning is often obscure, and the "images left imperfect." This criticism is absolutely just, but unfortunately some less well-judging persons though "of the highest eminence in literature" had advised the contrary. So "second thoughts prevailed," instead of those "third thoughts which are a riper first," and the Tales, or a selection from them, were printed. They have certainly not added to Crabbe's reputation. There are occasional touches of his old and best pathos, as in the story of Rachel; and in The Ancient Mansion there are brief descriptions of rural nature under the varying aspects of the seasons, which exhibit all Crabbe's old and close observation of detail, such as:—
"And then the wintry winds begin to blow, Then fall the flaky stars of gathering snow, When on the thorn the ripening sloe, yet blue, Takes the bright varnish of the morning dew; The aged moss grows brittle on the pale, The dry boughs splinter in the windy gale."
But there is much in these last Tales that is trivial and tedious, and it must be said that their publication has chiefly served to deter many readers from the pursuit of what is best and most rewardful in the study of Crabbe. To what extent the new edition served to revive any flagging interest in the poet cannot perhaps be estimated. The edition must have been large, for during many years past no book of the kind has been more prominent in second-hand catalogues. As we have seen, the popularity of Crabbe was already on the wane, and the appearance of the two volumes of Tennyson, in 1842, must farther have served to divert attention from poetry so widely different. Workmanship so casual and imperfect as Crabbe's had now to contend with such consummate art and diction as that of The Miller's Daughter and Dora.
As has been more than once remarked, these stories belong to the category of fiction as well as of poetry, and the duration of their power to attract was affected not only by the appearance of greater poets, but of prose story-tellers with equal knowledge of the human heart, and with other gifts to which Crabbe could make no claim. His knowledge and observation of human nature were not perhaps inferior to Jane Austen's, but he could never have matched her in prose fiction. He certainly was not deficient in humour, but it was not his dominant gift, as it was hers. Again, his knowledge of the life and social ways of the class to which he nominally belonged, does not seem to have been intimate. Crabbe could not have written prose fiction with any approximation to the manners of real life. His characters would have certainly thou'ed and thee'ed one another as they do in his verse, and a clergyman would always have been addressed as "Reverend Sir!"
Surely, it will be argued, all this is sufficient to account for the entire disappearance of Crabbe from the list of poets whom every educated lover of poetry is expected to appreciate. Yet the fact remains, as FitzGerald quotes from Sir Leslie Stephen, that "with all its short-and long-comings, Crabbe's better work leaves its mark on the reader's mind and memory as only the work of genius can," and almost all English poets and critics of mark, during his time and after it, have agreed in recognising the same fact. We know what was thought of him by Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Byron, and Tennyson. Critics differing as widely in other matters as Macaulay, John Henry Newman, Mr. Swinburne, and Dr. Gore, have found in Crabbe an insight into the springs of character, and a tragic power of dealing with them, of a rare kind. No doubt Crabbe demands something of his readers. He asks from them a corresponding interest in human nature. He asks for a kindred habit of observation, and a kindred patience. The present generation of poetry-readers cares mainly for style. While this remains the habit of the town, Crabbe will have to wait for any popular revival. But he is not so dead as the world thinks. He has his constant readers still, but they talk little of their poet. "They give Heaven thanks, and make no boast of it." These are they to whom the "unruly wills and affections" of their kind are eternally interesting, even when studied through the medium of a uniform and monotonous metre.
A Trowbridge friend wrote to Crabbe's son, after his father's death, "When I called on him, soon after his arrival, I remarked that his house and garden were pleasant and secluded: he replied that he preferred walking in the streets, and observing the faces of the passers-by, to the finest natural scenes." There is a poignant line in Maud, where the distracted lover dwells on "the faces that one meets." It was not by the "sweet records, promises as sweet," that these two observers of life were impressed, but rather by vicious records and hopeless outlooks. It was such countenances that Crabbe looked for, and speculated on, for in such, he found food for that pity and terror he most loved to awaken. The starting-point of Crabbe's desire to portray village-life truly was a certain indignation he felt at the then still-surviving conventions of the Pastoral Poets. We have lately watched, in the literature of our own day, a somewhat similar reaction against sentimental pictures of country-life. The feebler members of a family of novelists, which some one wittily labelled as the "kail-yard school," so irritated a young Scottish journalist, the late Mr. George Douglas, that he resolved to provide what he conceived might be a useful corrective for the public mind. To counteract the half-truths of the opposite school, he wrote a tale of singular power and promise, The House with the Green Shutters. Like all reactions, it erred in the violence of its colouring. If intended as a true picture of the normal state of a small Scottish provincial town and its society, it may have been as false in its own direction as the kail-yarders had been in theirs. But for Mr. Douglas's untimely death—a real loss to literature—he would doubtless have shown in future fictions that the pendulum had ceased to swing, and would have given us more artistic, because completer, pictures of human life. With Crabbe the force of his primal bias never ceased to act until his life's end. The leaven of protest against the sentimentalists never quite worked itself out in him, although, no doubt, in some of the later tales and portrayals of character, the sun was oftener allowed to shine out from behind the clouds
We must not forget this when we are inclined to accept without question Byron's famous eulogium. A poet is not the "best" painter of Nature, merely because he chooses one aspect of human character and human fortunes rather than another. If he must not conceal the sterner side, equally is he bound to remember the sunnier and more serene. If a poet is to deal justly with the life of the rich or poor, he must take into fullest account, and give equal prominence to, the homes where happiness abides. He must remember that though there is a skeleton in every cupboard, it must not be dragged out for a purpose, nor treated as if it were the sole inhabitant. He must deal with the happinesses of life and not only with its miseries; with its harmonies and not only its dislocations. He must remember the thousand homes in which is to be found the quiet and faithful discharge of duty, inspired at once and illumined by the family affections, and not forget that in such as these the strength of a country lies. Crabbe is often spoken of as our first great realist in the poetry and fiction of the last century, and the word is often used as if it meant chiefly plain-speaking as to the sordid aspects of life. But he is the truest realist who does not suppress any side of that which may be seen, if looked for. Although Murillo threw into fullest relief the grimy feet of his beggar-boys which so offended Mr. Ruskin, still what eternally attracts us to his canvas is not the soiled feet but the "sweet boy-faces" that "laugh amid the Seville grapes." It was because Crabbe too often laid greater stress on the ugliness than on the beauty of things, that he fails to that extent to be the full and adequate painter and poet of humble life.
He was a dispeller of many illusions. He could not give us the joy that Goldsmith, Cowper, and William Barnes have given, but he discharged a function no less valuable than theirs, and with an individuality that has given him a high and enduring place in the poetry of the nineteenth century.
There can be no question that within the last twenty or thirty years there has been a marked revival of interest in the poetry of Crabbe. To the influence of Edward FitzGerald's fascinating personality this revival may be partly, but is not wholly, due. It may be of the nature of a reaction against certain canons of taste too long blindly followed. It may be that, like the Queen in Hamlet, we are beginning to crave for "more matter and less art"; or that, like the Lady of Shalott, we are growing "half-sick of shadows," and long for a closer touch with the real joys and sorrows of common people. Whatever be the cause, there can be no reason to regret the fact, or to doubt that in these days of "art for art's sake," the influence of Crabbe's verse is at once of a bracing and a sobering kind.
Aaron the Gipsy Addison Adventures of Richard, The Aldeburgh Allegro (Milton) Allington (Lincolnshire) Ancient Mansion, The Annals of the Parish, The (Galt) Annual Register, The Austen, Jane Autobiography, Crabbe's
Baillie, Agnes —Joanna Barnes, William Barrie, J.M. Barton, Bernard, Basket-Woman, The (Edgeworth) Bath Beccles Belvoir Castle Biography, Crabbe's "Blaney" Borough, The Boswell Bowles, William Lisle Boys at School Bristol Bunbury, Sir Henry Burke Burns Butler, Joseph Byron
Campbell, Thomas Candidate, The Canterbury Tales, The (Chaucer) Castle Rackrent (Edgeworth) Celtic Club Chatterton Chaucer Childe Harold (Byron) Church, English Churchill (poet) Clarissa Harlowe (Richardson) "Clelia" Clergy, non-residence of sketches of Clifton Coleridge Confessions of an Opium Eater, (De Quincey) Confidant, The Courthope, Mr. Cowley Cowper Crabbe, George, birth and family history of; early literary bent; school days; apprenticed to a surgeon; life at Woodbridge; falls in love; first efforts in verse; practises as a surgeon; dangerous illness; engagement to Miss Elmy; seeks his fortune in London; poverty in London; keeps a diary; unsuccessful attempts to sell his poems; appeals to Edmund Burke; Burke's help and patronage; invited to Burke's country seat; publishes The Library; friendship with Burke; second letter to Burke; meetings with prominent men; takes Holy Orders; returns to Aldeburgh as curate; coldly received by his fellow-townsmen; becomes domestic chaplain to the Duke of Rutland; life at Belvoir Castle; The Village; receives LL.B. degree; presented to two livings; marriage; curate of Stathern; his children; village traditions concerning him; The Newspaper; life at Stathern; moves to Muston; revisits his native place; goes to Parham; lives at Great Glemham Hall; moves to Rendham; ill-health; use of opium; returns to Muston; publishes a new volume of poems; The Parish Register; his great popularity; friendship with Sir Walter Scott; The Borough; Tales; visit to London; returns to Muston; death of his wife; serious illness; rector of Trowbridge; departure from Muston; intercourse with literary men in London; a member of the "Literary Society"; receives L3000 from John Murray; returns to Trowbridge; Tales of the Hall; visits Scott in Edinburgh; Posthumous Poems; last years at Trowbridge; illness and death; his religious temperament; rusticity and lack of polish; indifference to art; want of tact; love of female society; acquaintance and sympathy with the poor; his preaching; inequality of his work; influence of preceding poets; his reputation at its height; knowledge of botany; his descriptions of nature; first great realist in verse; fondness for verbal antithesis; his epigrams; defective technique; his influence on subsequent novelists; parodies of his style; his sense of humour; defects of his poetry; his retentive memory; his characters drawn from life; his treatment of peasant life; power of analysing character; choice of sordid and gloomy subjects; his lyric verses; Edward FitzGerald's great admiration of his poetry; contemporary and other estimates of his work; revival of interest in him; Crabbe, George (father of the poet) —Mrs. (mother) —George (son) —Mrs. (wife) —John —Edmund —William —(brother) —George (grandson) —Caroline Critical Review
Daffodils, The (Wordsworth) Dejection, Ode to (Coleridge) Delay has Danger De Quincey Deserted Village, The (Goldsmith) Diary, Crabbe's Dickens Dodsley (publisher) Dora (Tennyson) Douglas, George Dunciad (Pope) Dunwich
Edgeworth, Miss Edinburgh Edinburgh Annual Register Edinburgh Review Edward Shore Elegant Extracts (Vicesimus Knox) Elegy in a Country Churchyard, (Gray) Ellen Elmy, Miss Sarah. See Crabbe, Mrs. (wife) English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (Byron) Enoch Arden (Tennyson) Erskine, William Essay on Man (Pope) Excursion, The (Wordsworth)
Felon, the condemned, Description of Fielding Finden (artist) FitzGerald, Edward —William Thomas Fox, Charles James —Henry Richard. See Holland, Lord Frank Courtship, The Fund, The Literary
Gentleman Farmer, The Gentleman's Magazine George IV Glemham Glynn, Dr. Robert Goldsmith Gordon, Lord George Gore, Dr. (Bishop of Worcester) Grantham Gray
Hall of Justice, The Hampstead Hanmer, Sir Thomas Memoir and Correspondence of Hatchard, John (publisher) Haunted House, The (Hood) Hazlitt Heart of Midlothian, The (Scott) Henry V (Shakespeare) "Hetty Sorrel" Highlanders Hoare family Hogarth Holland, Lord House with the Green Shutters, The (George Douglas) Huchon, M. (University of Nancy) Human Life (Rogers) Huntingdon, William Hutton, Rev. W.H.
Inebriety In Memoriam (Tennyson) "Isaac Ashford"
Jeffrey (Edinburgh Review) Johnson, Samuel Jordan, Mrs. (actress)
"Kailyard school" Keats Kemble, Fanny —John
Lady Barbara Lady of the Lake, The (Scott) Lamb, Charles Lamia and other Poems (Keats) Lansdowne, Third Marquis of Langborne (painter) Lay of the Last Minstrel, The (Scott) Lazy Lawrence (Edgeworth) Leadbeater, Mrs. Library, The Literary Society, The Lockhart Longmans (publisher) Lothian, Lord Lowell Lover's Journey, The Lyrical Ballads (Wordsworth)
Macaulay Maid's Story, The Manners, Lord Robert Maud (Tennyson) Memoir of Crabbe. See Biography Methodism Miller's daughter The (Tennyson) Minerva Press, The "Mira" Mitford, Miss Montgomery, Robert Monthly Review Moore, Thomas Murillo Murray, John (publisher) Muston (Leicestershire)
New Monthly Newman, Cardinal Newspaper, The Nineteenth Century North, Mr. Dudley —Lord Novels in Crabbe's day
Omar Khayyam Opium eating Our Village (Miss Mitford)
Pains of Sleep (Coleridge) Parents' Assistant, The (Edgeworth) Parham Parish Register, The Parting Hour, The Patron, The Phillips (artist) "Phoebe Dawson" Pluralities Poacher, The (Scott) Poor, State relief of Pope Posthumous Poems Pretyman, Bishop Priest, Description of Parish Progress of Error (Cowper) Pucklechurch
Quarterly Review Queensberry, Duke of
Raleigh Reform Bill Riots Rejected Addresses (Smith) Rendham Reynolds, Sir Joshua Richardson (novelist) Ridout, Miss Charlotte Riots, Gordon; Bristol Rogers, Samuel Rokeby (Scott) Romilly, Sir Samuel Ruskin Ruth Rutland, Duke of
Scott, Sir Walter Seasons, The (Thomson) Sellers, Miss Edith Shackleton, Edward Shakespeare Shelburne, Lord, lines to Shelley Siddons, Mrs. Simple Susan (Edgeworth) Sir Eustace Grey Sisters The Smith, James (Rejected, Addresses) Smollett Smugglers and Poachers Solitary Reaper, The (Wordsworth) Southey Spenser Spirit of the Age. (Hazlitt) Stanfield, Clark on Stathern (Leictershire) Stephen, Sir Leslie Stothard (painter) Sweffling (Suffolk) Swift Swinburne
Table Talk (Cowper) Tales Tales of the Hall Tennyson —Frederick Thomson Thurlow, Lord Tomlins, Dr. See Pretyman Tovell family Traveller, The (Goldsmith) Trollope, Anthony Trowbridge Turner, Rev. Richard
Walker, Frederick (artist) Watson, Bishop Waverley (Scott) Wesley Wesleyan Movement Westall, Richard (artist) Whitefield Revival Widow's Tale, The Wife's Trial, The (Lamb) Wilkie Wolfe Woodbridge Wordsworth World of Dreams, The