Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

GREAT OBSERVERS. 351

by one who does not mix in its business, it is impossible that it should not appear a very pitiable and almost ridiculous affair; or that the heart should not echo back the brief and emphatic exclamation of the mighty dramatist— “Life's a poor player, Who frets and struts his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more " " —

Or the more sarcastic amplification of it, in the words of Our great moral poet— “Behold the Child, by Nature's kindly law, Pleas'd with a rattle, tickl'd with a straw Some livelier plaything gives our Youth delight, A little louder, but as empty quite: Scarfs, garters, gold our riper years engage; And beads and prayer-books are the toys of Age! Pleas'd with this bauble still as that before, Till tird we sleep — and Life's poor play is o'er 1" This is the more solemn view of the subject: — But the first fruits of observation are most commonly found to issue in Satire—the unmasking the vain pretenders to wisdom, and worth, and happiness, with whom society is infested, and holding up to the derision of mankind those meannesses of the great, those miseries of the fortunate, and those “Fears of the brave, and follies of the wise,”

which the eye of a dispassionate observer so quickly detects under the glittering exterior by which they would sain be disguised — and which bring pretty much to a level the intellect, and morals, and enjoyments, of the great mass of mankind. This misanthropic end has unquestionably been by far the most common result of a habit of observation; and that in which its effects have most generally terminated: –Yet we cannot bring ourselves to think that it is their just or natural termination. Something, no doubt, will depend on the temper of the individual, and the proportions in which the gall and the milk of human kindness have been originally mingled in his composition. — Yet Satirists, we think, have not in general been ill-natured persons — and we are inclined rather to ascribe this

352 CRABBE — satiFE SHOULD RIPEN TO PHILANTHROPY.

limited and uncharitable application of their powers of observation to their love of fame and popularity, - which are well known to be best secured by successful ridicule or invective — or, quite as probably, indeed, to the narrowness and insufficiency of the observations themselves, and the imperfection of their talents for their due conduct and extension. It is certain, at least, we think, that the satirist makes use but of half the discoveries of the observer; and teaches but half— and the worser half— of the lessons which may be deduced from his occupation. He puts down, indeed, the proud pretensions of the great and arrogant, and levels the vain distinctions which human ambition has established among the brethren of mankind; — he

“Bares the mean heart that lurks beneath a Star,”

—and destroys the illusions which would limit our sympathy to the forward and figuring persons of this world — the favourites of fame and fortune. But the true result of observation should be, not so much to cast down the proud, as to raise up the lowly; — not so much to diminish our sympathy with the powerful and renowned, as to extend it to all, who in humbler conditions, have the same, or still higher claims on our esteem or affection. – It is not surely the natural consequence of learning to judge truly of the characters of men, that we should despise or be indifferent about them all; — and, though we have learned to see through the false glare which plays round the envied summits of existence, and to know how little dignity or happiness, or worth, or wisdom, may sometimes belong to the possessors of power, and fortune, and learning and renown, -it does not follow, by any means, that we should look upon the whole of human life as a mere deceit and imposture, or think the concerns of our species fit subjects only for scorn and derision. Our promptitude to admire and to envy will indeed be corrected, our enthusiasm abated, and our distrust of appearances increased; — but the sympathies and affections of our nature will continue, and be better

CRABBE WAS SATIRICAL AND syMPATHETIc. 353

directed—our love of our kind will not be diminished— and our indulgence for their faults and follies, if we read our lesson aright, will be signally strengthened and confirmed. The true and proper effect, therefore, of a habit of observation, and a thorough and penetrating knowledge of human character, will be, not to extinguish our sympathy, but to extend it — to turn, no doubt, many a throb of admiration, and many a sigh of love into a smile of derision or of pity; but at the same time to reveal much that commands our homage and excites our affection, in those humble and unexplored regions of the heart and understanding, which never engage the attention of the incurious, - and to bring the whole family of mankind nearer to a level, by finding out latent merits as well as latent defects in all its members, and compensating the flaws that are detected in the boasted ornaments of life, by bringing to light the richness and the lustre that sleep in the mines beneath its surface. We are afraid some of our readers may not at once perceive the application of these profound remarks to the subject immediately before us. But there are others, we doubt not, who do not need to be told that they are intended to explain how Mr. Crabbe, and other persons with the same gift of observation, should so often busy themselves with what may be considered as low and vulgar characters; and, declining all dealings with heroes and heroic topics, should not only venture to seek for an interest in the concerns of ordinary mortals, but actually intersperse small pieces of ridicule with their undignified pathos, and endeavour to make their readers look on their books with the same mingled feel- . ings of compassion and amusement, with which – unnatural as it may appear to the readers of poetry — they, and all judicious observers, actually look upon human life and human nature. This, we are persuaded, is the true key to the greater part of the peculiarities of the author before us; and though we have disserted upon it a little longer than was necessary, we really think it may enable our readers to comprehend him, and our remarks VOL. II. A A

354 HAD A LEANING To KINDNESS AND PITY.

on him, something better than they could have done without it. There is, as everybody must have felt, a strange mix. ture of satire and sympathy in all his productions—a great kindliness and compassion for the errors and suf. ferings of our poor human nature, but a strong distrust of its heroic virtues and high pretensions. His heart is always open to pity, and all the milder emotions—but there is little aspiration after the grand and sublime of character, nor very much encouragement for raptures and ecstasies of any description. These, he seems to think, are things rather too fine for the said poor human nature: and that, in our low and erring condition, it is a little ridiculous to pretend, either to very exalted and immaculate virtue, or very pure and exquisite happiness. He not only never meddles, therefore, with the delicate distresses and noble fires of the heroes and heroines of tragic and epic fable, but may generally be detected indulging in a lurking sneer at the pomp and vanity of all such superfine imaginations—and turning from them, to draw men in their true postures and dimensions, and with all the imperfections that actually belong to their condition: — the prosperous and happy overshadowed with passing clouds of ennui, and disturbed with little flaws of bad humour and discontent— the great and wise beset at times with strange weaknesses and meannesses and paltry vexations — and even the most virtuous and enlightened falling far below the standard of poetical perfection — and stooping every now and then to paltry jealousies and prejudices — or sinking into shabby sensualities — or meditating on their own excellence and importance, with a ludicrous and lamentable anxiety. This is one side of the picture; and characterises suf. ficiently the satirical vein of our author: But the other is the most extensive and important. In rejecting the vulgar sources of interest in poetical narratives, and reducing his ideal persons to the standard of reality, Mr. C. does by no means seek to extinguish the sparks of human sympathy within us, or to throw any damp on

HIS SKILL IN TRACING CHARACTERS. 355

the curiosity with which we naturally explore the characters of each other. On the contrary, he has afforded new and more wholesome food for all these propensities —and, by placing before us those details which our pride or fastidiousness is so apt to overlook, has disclosed, in all their truth and simplicity, the native and unadulterated workings of those affections which are at

the bottom of all social interest, and are really rendered

less touching by the exaggerations of more ambitious artists — while he exhibits, with admirable force and endless variety, all those combinations of passions and opinions, and all that cross-play of selfishness and vanity, and indolence and ambition, and habit and reason, which make up the intellectual character of individuals, and present to every one an instructive picture of his neighbour, or himself. Seeing, by the perfection of his art, the master passions in their springs, and the high capacities in their rudiments—and having acquired the gift of tracing all the propensities and marking tendencies of our plastic nature, in their first slight indications, or even from the aspect of the disguises they so often assume, he does not need, in order to draw out his characters in all their life and distinctness, the vulgar demonstration of those striking and decided actions by which their maturity is proclaimed even to the careless and inattentive; — but delights to point out to his readers, the seeds or tender filaments of those talents and feelings which wait only for occasion and opportunity to burst out and astonish the world – and to accustom them to trace, in characters and actions apparently of the most ordinary description, the self-same attributes that, under other circumstances, would attract universal attention, and furnish themes for the most popular and impassioned descriptions. That he should not be guided in the choice of his subject by any regard to the rank or condition which his persons hold in society, may easily be imagined; and, with a view to the ends he aims at, might readily be forgiven. But we fear that his passion for observation, and the delight he takes in tracing out and an

« FöregåendeFortsätt »