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MIGHT DO STILL BETTER THAN HAS DONE. 321
blemishes, which we meant to have pointed out for his correction: but we have no longer room for such minute criticism — from which, indeed, neither the author nor the reader would be likely to derive any great benefit. We take our leave of Mr. Crabbe, therefore, by expressing our hopes that, since it is proved that he can write fast, he will not allow his powers to languish for want of exercise; and that we shall soon see him again repaying the public approbation, by entitling himself to a still larger share of it. An author generally knows his own forte so much better than any of his readers, that it is commonly a very foolish kind of presumption
to offer any advice as to the direction of his efforts; but
we own we have a very strong desire to see Mr. Crabbe apply his great powers to the construction of some interesting and connected story. He has great talents for narration; and that unrivalled gift in the delineation of character, which is now used only for the creation of detached portraits, might be turned to admirable account in maintaining the interest, and enhancing the probability, of an extended train of adventures. 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 the characters. In such a poem, however, Mr. Crabbe must entirely lay aside the sarcastic and jocose style to which he has rather too great a propensity; but which we know, from what he has done in Sir Eustace Grey, that he can, when he pleases, entirely relinquish. That very powerful and original performance, indeed, the chief fault of which is, to be set too thick with images — to be too strong and undiluted, in short, for the digestion of common readers — makes us regret, that its author should ever have stopped to be trifling and ingenious — or condescended to tickle the imaginations of his readers, instead of touching the higher passions of their nature.
VOL. II. Y
Tales. By the Reverend GEORGE CRABBE. 8vo. pp. 398. London : 1812.
WE are very thankful to Mr. Crabbe for these Tales; as we must always be for any thing that comes from his hands. But they are not exactly the tales which we wanted. We did not, however, wish him to write an Epic — as he seems from his preface to have imagined. We are perfectly satisfied with the length of the pieces he has given us; and delighted with their number and variety. In these respects the volume is exactly as we could have wished it. But we should have liked a little more of the deep and tragical passions; of those passions which exalt and overwhelm the soul — to whose stormy seat the modern muses can so rarely raise their flight—and which he has wielded with such terrific force in his Sir Eustace Grey, and the Gipsy Woman. What we wanted, in short, were tales something in the style of those two singular compositions — with less jocularity than prevails in the rest of his writings—rather more incidents — and rather fewer details. The pieces before us are not of this description; — they are mere supplementary chapters to “The Borough,” or “The Parish Register.” The same tone —
the same subjects — the same style, measure, and versifi
cation; — the same finished and minute delineation of things ordinary and common — generally very engaging when employed upon external objects, but often fatiguing when directed merely to insignificant characters and habits; — the same strange mixture too of feelings that tear the heart and darken the imagination, with starts of low humour and patches of ludicrous imagery; — the same kindly sympathy with the humble and innocent pleasures of the poor and inelegant, and the same in
CRABBE's TALEs — MostLY OF HUMBLE LIFE. 323
dulgence for their venial offences, contrasted with a strong sense of their frequent depravity, and too constant a recollection of the sufferings it produces; — and, finally, the same honours paid to the delicate affections and ennobling passions of humble life, with the same generous testimony to their frequent existence; mixed up, as before, with a reprobation sufficiently rigid, and a ridicule sufficiently severe, of their excesses and affectations. If we were required to make a comparative estimate of the merits of the present publication, or to point out the shades of difference by which it is distinguished from those that have gone before it, we should say that there are a greater number of instances on which he has combined the natural language and manners of humble life with the energy of true passion, and the beauty of generous affection; —-in which he has traced out the course of those rich and lovely veins in the rude and unpolished masses that lie at the bottom of society; — and unfolded, in the middling orders of the people, the workings of those finer feelings, and the stirrings of those loftier emotions which the partiality of other poets had attributed, almost exclusively, to actors on a higher SCelle. We hope, too, that this more amiable and consoling view of human nature will have the effect of rendering Mr. Crabbe still more popular than we know that he already is, among that great body of the people, from among whom almost all his subjects are taken, and for . . whose use his lessons are chiefly intended: and we say this, not only on account of the moral benefit which we think they may derive from them, but because we are persuaded that they will derive more pleasure from them than readers of any other description. Those who do not belong to that rank of society with which this powerful writer is chiefly conversant in his poetry, or who have not at least gone much among them, and attended diligently to their characters and occupations, can neither be half aware of the exquisite fidelity of his delineations, nor feel in their full force the better part of
324 CRABBE's TALEs—MosT RELISHED BY MIDDLING CLASS.
the emotions which he has suggested. Vehement passion indeed is of all ranks and conditions; and its language and external indications nearly the same in all. Like highly rectified spirit, it blazes and inflames with equal force and brightness, from whatever materials it is extracted. But all the softer and kindlier affections, all the social anxieties that mix with our daily hopes, and endear our homes, and colour our existence, wear a different livery, and are written in a different character in almost every great caste or division of society; and the heart is warmed, and the spirit touched by their delineation, exactly in the proportion in which we are familiar with the types by which they are represented. —When Burns, in his better days, walked out in a fine summer morning with Dugald Stewart, and the latter observed to him what a beauty the scattered cottages, with their white walls and curling smoke shining in the silent sun, imparted to the landscape, the peasant poet answered, that he felt that beauty ten times more strongly than his companion could do; and that it was necessary to be a cottager to know what pure and tranquil pleasures often nestled below those lowly roofs, or to read, in their external appearance, the signs of so many heartfelt and long-remembered enjoyments. In the same way, the humble and patient hopes—the depressing embarrassments — the little mortifications — the slender triumphs, and strange temptations which arise in middling life, and are the theme of Mr. Crabbe's finest and most touching representations — can only be guessed at by those who glitter in the higher walks of existence; while they must raise many a tumultuous throb and many a fond recollection in the breasts of those to whom they reflect so truly the image of their own estate, and reveal so clearly the secrets of their habitual sensations. We cannot help thinking, therefore, that though such writings as are now before us must give great pleasure to all persons of taste and sensibility, they will give by far the greatest pleasure to those whose condition is least remote from that of the beings with whom they are occupied. But we think also, that it was wise and meritorious
BEST AFFECTIONS NOT IN HIGHEST STATIONs. 325
in Mr. Crabbe to occupy himself with such beings. In this country, there probably are not less than 300,000 persons who read for amusement or instruction, among the middling classes” of society. In the higher classes, there are not as many as 30,000. It is easy to see therefore which a poet should choose to please, for his own glory and emolument, and which he should wish to delight and amend, out of mere philanthropy. The fact too we believe is, that a great part of the larger body are to the full as well educated and as high-minded as the smaller; and, though their taste may not be so correct and fastidious, we are persuaded that their sensibility is greater. The misfortune is, to be sure, that they are extremely apt to affect the taste of their superiors, and to counterfeit even that absurd disdain of which they are themselves the objects; and that poets have generally thought it safest to invest their interesting characters with all the trappings of splendid fortune and high station, chiefly because those who know least about such matters think it unworthy to sympathise in the adventures of those who are without them | For our own parts, however, we are quite positive, not only that persons in middling life would naturally be most touched with the emotions that belong to their own condition, but that those emotions are in themselves the most powerful, and consequently the best fitted for poetical or pathetic representation. Even with regard to the heroic and ambitious passions, as the vista is longer, which leads from humble privacy to the natural objects of such passions; so, the career is likely to be more impetuous, and its outset more marked by striking and contrasted emotiv.is: — and as to all the more tender and less turbulent affections, upon which the beauty of the pathetic is altogether dependent, we apprehend it to be quite manifest, that their proper soil and nidus is the privacy and simplicity of humble life;— that their very
* By the middling classes we mean almost all those who are below the sphere of what is called fashionable or public life, and who do not aim at distinction or notoriety beyond the circle of their equals in fortune and situation.