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Art. II.- The Life and Poems of Rev. George Crabbe, LL.B.

[Concluded from page 471.] Having given a rapid sketch of Mr. Crabbe's literary life, we now come to the consideration of his poetical works. These we shall present in the order in which they were given to the world. His first considerable poem, which was published in 1781, is entitled The Library.It opens with the remark that the pleasures of life are not capable of driving sorrows from the heart burdened with grief, and that this can only be done by substituting a lighter kind of distress for its own.

Our first extract from this poem is the passage in which the arrangement of the books is indicated.

“ Lo! all in silence, all in order stand,
The mighty folios first, a lordly band;
Then quartos their well-order'd ranks maintain,
And light octavos fill a spacious plain :
See yonder, ranged in more frequented rows,
An humbler band of duodecimos.
While undistinguish'd trifles swell the scene,
The last new play, and fritter'd magazine.
Thus 'tis in life, where first the proud, the great,
In leagued assembly keep their cumbrous state;
Heavy and huge, they fill the world with dread,
Are much admired, and are but little read:
The commons next, a middle rank, are found;
Professions fruitful pour their offspring round;
Reasoners and wits are next their place allow'd,

And last of vulgar tribes a countless crowd.” Divinity, medicine, law,-each has due consideration in the arrangement of the Library. Nor are the stage and the old romance writers forgotten; from the latter of whom the author brushes off the dust which has disgracefully gathered on their heads, and sums up their wondrous tales of giants and of dread in one admirable paragraph. We make but one other extract from this poem, which we commend as much for its truth as for its poetic excellence. It occurs in remarks upon the theological department of the Library.

“ Methinks I see, and sicken at the sight,

Spirits of spleen from yonder pile alight;
Spirits who prompted every damning page,
With pontiff pride, and still increasing rage.
Lo how they stretch their gloomy wings around,
And lash with furious strokes the trembling ground!

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They pray, they fight, they murder, and they weep,
Wolves in their vengeance, in their manners sheep;
Too well they act the prophet's fatal part,
Denouncing evil with a zealous heart;
And each, like Jonas, is displeased if God
Repent his anger, or withhold his rod.

« But here the dormant fury rests unsought,
And Zeal sleeps soundly by the foes she fought;
Here all the rage of controversy ends,
And rival zealots rest like bosom friends.
An Athanasian here, in deep repose,
Sleeps with the fiercest of his Ārian foes;
Socinians here with Calvinists abide,
And thin partitions angry chiefs divide;
Here wily Jesuits simple Quakers meet,
And Bellarmine has rest at Luther's feet.
Great authors for the church's glory fired,
Are, for the church's peace, to rest retired;
And close beside a mystic, maudlin race,
Lie · Crumbs of Comfort for the Babes of Grace.'

Against her foes religion well defends
Her sacred truths, but often fears her friends;
If learn’d, their pride, if weak, their zeal she dreads,

And their hearts' weakness, who have soundest heads." Upon the whole, this first published poem of Mr. Crabbe contains many commendable passages, much good sense, and the exhibition of a fine ear for polished versification.

The next poem published by the author was called “The Village,” which, it will be remembered, appeared in 1783. This production, the first of his which obtained any considerable popularity, (for his “ Library” was not very extensively circulated,) contains many indications of that minute delineation which marks all his succeeding works. It has a force, in some parts, which was but the earnest of that

power which was afterward so fully developed in his writings; and was but introductory to that particular portion of Parnassus, which he secured, to be his own exclusively, by later and stronger titles. It contained entirely new views of rustic life. It was the first of a series of poems which have torn the myrtle from around the cottage, twined there for ages by the imagination of the poets, and left it a decaying hovel. Instead of the contented swain, enjoying his frugal repast with a happy heart, we have him presented eating his coarse bread, mingling his perspiration with his daily drink, plodding behind the plough, exposed to the sun's heat and the rain's pelting. In the morning he does not arise to gaze, with a poet's rapture, on the brightness of day's waking, but to commence the severe labor which protracts its hours. The evening does not find him weaving pleasant rhymes and making music on his rustic pipe, but worn out with toil, having spent all his strength in obtaining that which barely sustains his existence. Old age does not come to him calm, peaceful, dignified but neglected, scorned, with its hoary head bowed down with weaknesses, its body possessed by infirmities. In a word, he gives us all

" That forms the real picture of the poor;" and

“paints the cot, As truth will paint it, and as bards will not.” In this poem Mr. Crabbe gives us a picture of the town in which he was born; painting its desolate condition and barren vicinity in most descriptive poetry. He calls the inhabitants

"a wild, amphibious, race,
With sullen wo display'd in every face,
Who, far from civil arts and social fly,
And scowl at strangers with suspicious eye.”

“Here, wand’ring long, amid these frowning fields,
I sought the simple life that nature yields;
Rapine and wrong, and fear usurp'd her place,
And a bold, artful, surly, savage race;
Who, only skill'd to take the finny tribe,
The yearly dinner, or septennial bribe,
Wait on the shore, and, as the waves run high,
On the tost vessel bend their eager eye,
Which to their coast directs its venturous way;

Theirs, or the ocean's miserable prey." It is generally, and we think very naturally, supposed by those who have not perused Mr. Crabbe's entire works, that he is a gloomy writer, delighting to dwell upon the dark points of human character; and the consequent conclusion is that he must have been a reserved, unsocial, unhappy man. His memoir, by his son, will entirely remove this latter impression, and the former has been very properly accounted for on this wise. Mr. Crabbe was long known to the majority of general readers by the portions of his earlier works which found their way into the “Elegant Extracts.” These fragments, containing a very faithful insight to the miseries of the poor, so long concealed by the false tissue of beauty which poetry had thrown over rustic life, and some of them being pictures of misery in her darkest garb, those who read them imbibed the impression that their author was an unhappy man; and the fine finish of the portions thus given to the public, produced in the minds of most who read them, an assurance that this was Mr. Crabbe's forte, and consequently that the bias of his mind led him to take pleasure in the contemplation of human nature in its most degraded and mortifying developments. This is by no means a fair estimate of our author's character, as the careful perusal of his later productions will abundantly testify. One passage in “The Village,” more, probably, than any other, may have had an influence in producing this impression. We allude to that admirable, minute, and sickening description of the parish work-house, with its inmates, the heartless apothecary and unspiritual priest. As there is not, perhaps, in all his poems, a passage more finished and true to nature, and one showing our author's power at that period, we will give several extracts from it. It richly deserves preservation.

“ Theirs is yon house that holds the parish poor,

Whose walls of mud scarce bear the broken door,
There, where the putrid vapours, flagging, play,
And the dull wheel hums doleful through the day ;-
There children dwell who know no parents' care ;
Parents, who know no children's love, dwell there!
Heart-broken matrons on their joyless bed,
Forsaken wives, and mothers never wed;
Dejected widows, with unheeded tears,
And crippled age, with more than childhood's fears ;
The lame, the blind, and, far the happiest they !
The moping idiot and the madman gay.

“Such is that room which one rude beam divides,
And naked rafters form the sloping sides ;
Where the vile bands that bind the thatch are seen,
And lath and mud are all that lie between;
Save one dull pane, that, coarsely patch'd, gives way
To the rude tempest, yet excludes the day,
Here, on a matted flock, with dust o'erspread,
The drooping wretch reclines his languid head;
For him no hand the cordial cup applies,
Or wipes the tear that stagnates in his eyes ;
No friends with soft discourse his pain beguile,
Or promise hope till sickness wears a smile.

“But soon a loud and hasty summons calls,

Shakes the thin roof, and echoes round the walls ; Vol. 1.-33

Anon a figure enters, quaintly neat,
All pride and business, bustle and conceit;
With looks unalter'd by these scenes of wo,
With speed that, entering, speaks his haste to go,
He bids the gazing throng around him fly,
And carries fate and physic in his eye:
A potent quack, long versed in human ills,
Who first insults the victim whom he kills ;
Whose murd'rous hand a drowsy bench protect,
And whose most tender mercy is neglect.

“ But ere his death some pious doubts arise,
Some simple fears which bold bad' men despise ;
Fain would he ask the parish priest to prove
His title certain to the joys above;
For this he sends the murmuring nurse, who calls
The holy stranger to these dismal walls ;
And doth not he, the pious man, appear,
He passing rich with forty pounds a year?'
Ah! no; a shepherd of a different stock,
And far unlike him, feeds his little flock:
A jovial youth, who thinks his Sunday's task
As much as God or man can fairly ask;
The rest he gives to loves and labors light,
To fields the morning, and to feasts the night;
None better skill'd the noisy pack to guide,
To urge their chase, to cheer them or to chide ;
A sportsman keen, he shoots through half the day,
And, skill'd at whist, devotes the night to play:
Then while such honors bloom around his head,
Shall he sit sadly by the sick man's bed,
To raise the hope he feels not, or with zeal
To combat fears that e'en the pious feel ?"

What exquisite painting ! what a perfect picture! Is it to be wondered that a man long known to the literary world by this and kindred passages, should be regarded as fond of contemplating the human heart when it presents the most dreary aspect? We had intended to make two or three other extracts from this

but if we pause to cull every flower, and dwell upon every beauty, we shall swell our article far beyond its assigned limits. We shall not delay upon the “Newspaper,” a poem published in 1786; it detracted naught from the author's acquired credit, if it added little thereto. It is an interesting poem, with, perhaps, an improvement in versification; not very complimentary to that department of literature, and dealing out very unacceptable advice to those who

poem,

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