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346 CRABBE's TALEs.
not sure that even our poetical readers will all be dis. posed to thank us. But considering Mr. Crabbe as upon the whole, the most original writer who has ever come before us; and being at the same time of opinion, that his writings are destined to a still more extensive popularity than they have yet obtained, we could not resist the temptation of contributing our little aid to the fulfilment of that destiny. It is chiefly for the same reason that we have directed our remarks rather to the moral than the literary qualities of his works;– to his genius at least, rather than his taste — and to his thoughts rather than his figures of speech. By far the most remarkable thing in his writings, is the prodigious mass of original observations and reflections they every where exhibit; and that extraordinary power of conceiving and representing an imaginary object, whether physical or intellectual, with such a rich and complete accompaniment of circumstances and details, as few ordinary observers either perceive or remember in realities; — a power which, though often greatly misapplied, must for ever entitle him to the very first rank among descriptive poets; and, when directed to worthy objects, to a rank inferior to none in the highest departments of poetry. In such an author, the attributes of style and versification may fairly be considered as secondary; — and yet, if we were to go minutely into them, they would afford room for a still longer chapter than that which we are now concluding. He cannot be said to be uniformly, or even generally, an elegant writer. His style is not dignified — and neither very pure nor very easy Its characters are force, precision, and familiarity; — now and then obscure—sometimes vulgar, and sometimes quaint. With a great deal of tenderness, and occasional fits of the sublime of despair and agony, there is a want of habitual fire, and of a tone of enthusiasm in the general tenor of his writings. He seems to recollect rather than invent; and frequently brings forward his statements more in the temper of a cautious and conscientious witness, than of a fervent orator or impas.
MERITS AND FAULTS OF THE WORK. 347
sioned spectator. His similes are almost all elaborate and ingenious, and rather seem to be furnished from the efforts of a fanciful mind, than to be exhaled by the spontaneous ferment of a heated imagination. His versification again is frequently harsh and heavy, and his diction flat and prosaic ; — both seeming to be altogether neglected in his zeal for the accuracy and complete rendering of his conceptions. These defects too are infinitely greater in his recent than in his early compositions. “The Village" is written, upon the whole, in a flowing and sonorous strain of versification; and “Sir Eustace Grey,” though a late publication, is in general remarkably rich and melodious. It is chiefly in his narratives and curious descriptions that these faults of diction and measures are conspicuous. Where he is warmed by his subject, and becomes fairly indignant or pathetic, his language is often very sweet and beautiful. He has no fixed system or manner of versification; but mixes several very opposite styles, as it were by accident, and not in general very judiciously; —what is peculiar to himself is not good, and strikes us as being both abrupt and affected.
He may profit, if he pleases, by these hints—and, if he pleases, he may laugh at them. It is no great matter. If he will only write a few more Tales of the kind we have suggested at the beginning of this article, we shall engage for it that he shall have our praises — and those of more fastidious critics—whatever be the qualities of his style or versification.
348 CRABBE's TALES OF THE HALL.
Tales of the Hall. By the Reverend GEORGE CRABBE. 2 vols. 8vo. pp. 670. London: 1819.
MR. CRABBE is the greatest mannerist, perhaps, of all our living poets; and it is rather unfortunate that the most prominent features of his mannerism are not the most pleasing. The homely, quaint, and prosaic style—the flat, and often broken and jingling versification — the eternal full-lengths of low and worthless characters— with their accustomed garnishings of sly jokes and familiar moralising — are all on the surface of his writings; and are almost unavoidably the things by which we are first reminded of him, when we take up any of his new productions. Yet they are not the things that truly constitute his peculiar manner; or give that character by which he will, and ought to be, remembered with future generations. It is plain enough, indeed, that these are things that will make nobody remembered — and can never, therefore, be really characteristic of some of the most original and powerful poetry that the world has CVel' Seen. Mr. C., accordingly, has other gifts; and those not less peculiar or less strongly marked than the blemishes with which they are contrasted; — an unrivalled and almost magical power of observation, resulting in descriptions so true to nature as to strike us rather as transcripts than imitations — an anatomy of character and feeling not less exquisite and searching — an occasional touch of matchless tenderness — and a deep and dreadful pathetic, interspersed by fits, and strangely interwoven with the most minute and humble of his details. Add to all this the sure and profound sagacity of the remarks with which he every now and then startles us in the midst of very unambitious discussions; — and
HIS TRUE CHARACTERISTICS. 349
the weight and terseness of the maxims which he drops, like oracular responses, on occasions that give no promise of such a revelation; — and last, though not least, that sweet and seldom sounded chord of Lyrical inspiration, the lightest touch of which instantly charms away all harshness from his numbers, and all lowness from his themes — and at once exalts him to a level with the most energetic and inventive poets of his age. These, we think, are the true characteristics of the genius of this great writer; and it is in their mixture with the oddities and defects to which we have already alluded, that the peculiarity of his manner seems to us substantially to consist. The ingredients may all of them be found, we suppose, in other writers; but their combination — in such proportions at least as occur in this instance—may safely be pronounced to be original. Extraordinary, however, as this combination must appear, it does not seem very difficult to conceive in what way it may have arisen; and, so far from regarding it as a proof of singular humorousness, caprice, or affectation in the individual, we are rather inclined to hold that something approaching to it must be the natural result of a long habit of observation in a man of genius, possessed of that temper and disposition which is the usual accompaniment of such a habit; and that the same strangely compounded and apparently incongruous assemblage of themes and sentiments would be frequently produced under such circumstances—if authors had oftener the courage to write from their own impressions, and had less fear of the laugh or wonder of the more shallow and barren part of their readers. A great talent for observation, and a delight in the exercise of it — the power and the practice of dissecting and disentangling that subtle and complicated tissue, of habit, and self-love, and affection, which constitute human character—seems to us, in all cases, to imply a contemplative, rather than an active disposition. It can only exist, indeed, where there is a good deal of social sympathy; for, without this, the occupation could excite no interest, and afford no satisfaction—but only such a mea
350 CRABBE – His CHARACTERISTICS THOSE OF
sure and sort of sympathy as is gratified by being a spectator, and not an actor on the great theatre of life — and leads its possessor rather to look with eagerness on the feats and the fortunes of others, than to take a share for himself in the game that is played before him. Some stirring and vigorous spirits there are, no doubt, in which this taste and talent is combined with a more thorough and effective sympathy; and leads to the study of men's characters by an actual and hearty participation in their various passions and pursuits; — though it is to be remarked, that when such persons embody their observations in writing, they will generally be found to exhibit their characters in action, rather than to describe them in the abstract; and to let their various personages disclose themselves and their peculiarities, as it were spontaneously, and without help or preparation, in their ordinary conduct and speech—of all which we have a very splendid and striking example in the “Tales of My Landlord,” and the other pieces of that extraordinary writer. In the common case, however, a great observer, we believe, will be found, pretty certainly, to be a person of a shy and retiring temper—who does not mingle enough with the people he surveys, to be heated with their passions, or infected with their delusions — and who has usually been led, indeed, to take up the office of a looker on, from some little infirmity of nerves, or weakness of spirits, which has unfitted him from playing a more active part on the busy scene of existence. Now, it is very obvious, we think, that this contemplative turn, and this alienation from the vulgar pursuits of mankind, must in the first place, produce a great contempt for most of those pursuits, and the objects they seek to obtain — a levelling of the factitious distinctions which human pride and vanity have established in the world, and a mingled scorn and compassion for the lofty pretensions under which men so often disguise the nothingness of their chosen occupations. When the
many-coloured scene of life, with all its petty agitations,
its shifting pomps, and perishable passions, is surveyed