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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,
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;
They pray, they fight, they murder, and they weep,
« But here the dormant fury rests unsought,
Against her foes religion well defends
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,
“Here, wand’ring long, amid these frowning fields,
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,
“Such is that room which one rude beam divides,
“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,
“ But ere his death some pious doubts arise,
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