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BY GEORGE GILFILLAN, AUTHOR OF A GALLERY OF LITERARY PORTRAITS." To be the Poet of the waste places of Crea- the gay and the aspiring mate with Nature tion—to adopt the orphans of the Mighty in her towering altitudes, and flatter her Mother-to wed her dowerless daughters- more favored scenes; I will go after her to find out the beauty which has been spilt in into her secret retirements, bring out her tiny drops in her more unlovely regions-bashful beauties, praise what none are willto echo the low music which arises from ing to praise, and love what there are very even her stillest and most sterile spots— few to love." From his early circumstanwas the mission of Crabbe, as a descriptive ces besides, there had stolen over his soul a poet. He preferred the Leahs to the Ra- shade of settled though subdued gloom. chels of Nature: and this he did not merely And for sympathy with this, he betook himthat his lot had cast him amid such scenes, self to the sterner and sadder aspects of and that early associations had taught him Nature, where he saw, or seemed to see, his a profound interest in them, but apparently own feelings reflected, as in a sea of melanfrom native taste. He actually loved that choly faces, in dull skies, waste moorlands, beauty which stands shivering on the brink the low beach, and the moaning of the of barrenness—loved it for its timidity and waves upon it, as if weary of their eternal its loneliness. Nay, he seemed to love bar- wanderings. Such, too, at moments, was renness itself; brooding over its dull page the feeling of Burns, when he strode on the till there arose from it a strange lustre, scaur of the Nith, and saw the waters red which his eye distinctly sees, and which in and turbid below, or walked in a windy part he makes visible to his readers. It day by the side of a plantation, and heard was even as the darkness of cells has been the “sound of a gong” upon the tops of sometimes peopled to the view of the soli- the trees : or when he exclaimed, with a tary prisoner, and spiders seemed angels, in calm simplicity of bitterness which is most the depths of his dungeon. We can fancy, affecting too, in Crabbe's mind, a feeling of pity for "The leafless trees my fancy please, those unloved spots, and those neglected
Their fate resembles mine." glories. We can fancy him saying, “let | Oh! where, indeed, can the unhappy reVol. XI. No. I,
pair, to escape from their own sorrows, or laces, or Alpine peaks. This, at least, is worse, from the unthinking glee or consti- true of his “ Childe Harold,” and his eartutional cheerfulness of others, more fitly lier pieces. In the later productions of his than into the wastes and naked places of pen, he goes to the opposite extreme, and Nature? She will not then and there seem alights, with a daring yet dainty foot, upon to insult them with her laughing luxuriance all shunned and forbidden things--reminds --her foliage fluttering, as if in vain dis- us of the raven in the Deluge, which found play, with the glossy gilding of her flowers, rest for the sole of her foot upon carcases, or the sunny sparkle and song of her stream- where the dove durst not stand-rushes in lets. But she will uplift a mightier and where modesty and reserve alike have forolder voice. She will soothe them by a bidden entrance-and ventures, though still sterner ministry. She will teach them not like a lost archangel, to tread the burn"old truths, abysmal truths, awful truths." | ing marl of Hell, the dim gulf of Hades, She will answer their sighs by the groans the shadowy ruins of the Pre-Adamitic of the Creation travailing in pain; suck up world, and the crystal pavement of Heaven. their tears in the sweat of her great ago- Moore practises a principle of more delicate nies; reflect their tiny wrinkles in those selection, resembling some nice ily which deep stabs and scars on her forehead, which should alight only upon flowers, whether speak of struggle and contest'; give back natural or artificial, if so that flowers they the gloom of their brows in the frowns of seemed to be ; thus, from sunny bowers, her forests, her mountain solitudes, and her and moonlit roses, and gardens, and blushwaste midnight darkness ; infuse something, ing skies, and ladies' dresses, does the bard too, of her own sublime expectancy into of Erin extract his finest poetry. Shelley their spirits ; and dismiss them from her and Coleridge attach themselves almost exsociety, it may be sadder, but certainly clusively to the great—understanding this wiser men. How admirably is Nature term in a wide senso, as including much suited to all moods of all men!. In spring, that is grotesque and much that is homely, she is gay with the light-hearted; in sum- which the magic of their genius sublimates mer, gorgeous as its sun to those fiery spi- to a proper pitch of keeping with the rest. rits who seem made for a warmer day; in Their usual walk is swelling and buskined ; autumn, she spreads over all hearts a mel- their common talk is of great rivers, great low and unearthly joy ; and even in win- forests, great seas, great continents; or else ter—when her temple is deserted of the of comets, suns, constellations, and firmafrivolous and the timid, who quit it along ments-as that of all half-mad, wholly miwith the smile of the sun-she attracts her serable, and opium-fed genius is apt to be. own few but faithful votaries, who love her Sir Walter Scott, who seldom grappled in her naked sculpture, as well as in her with the gloomier and grander features of glowing pictorial hues, and who enjoy her his country's scenery (did he ever describe solemn communion none the less that they Glenco or Foyers, or the wildernesses enjoy it by themselves. To use the words around Ben mac Dhui ?), had-need we of a forgotten poet, addressing Spring- say? the most exquisite eye for all pictur
esque and romantic aspects, in sea, shore, Thou op'st a storehouse for all hues of men. or sky; and in the quick perception of this
To hardihood thou, blustering from the North, Roll'st dark-hast sighs for them that would com- element of the picturesque lay his principal, plain;
if not only descriptive power. Wordsworth, Sharp winds to clear the head of wit and worth; again, seems always to be standing above, Aud melody for those that follow mirth ; Clouds for the gloomy; tears for those that weep; describes. He seldom looks up in rapt ad
though not stooping over, the objects he Flowers blighted in the bud for those that birth Untimely sorrow o'er; and skies where sweep
miration of what is above; the bending Fleets of a thousand sail for them that plough the furze-bush and the lowly broom—the nest deep."
lying in the level clover-field—the tarn Crabbe, as a descriptive poet, differs from sinking away seemingly before his eye into other modern masters of the art, alike in darker depths—the prospect from the mounhis selection of subjects, and in his mode tain summit cast far beneath him; at highof treating the subjects he does select. By- est, the star burning low upon the mounron moves over nature with a fastidious and tain's ridge, like an "untended watchfire ;" aristocratic step---touching only upon ob- these are the objects which he loves to dejects already interesting or ennobled, upon scribe, and these may stand as emblems of battle fields, castellated ruins, Italian pa- his lowly yet aspiring genius. Crabbe, on
the other hand, “stoops to conquer”-nay,In his mode of managing his descriptions, goes down on his knees, that he may more Crabbe is equally peculiar. Objects, in accurately describe such objects as the themselves counted commonplace or dismarsh given over to desolation from imme- gusting, frequently become impressive, and morial time—the slush left by the sea, and even sublime, when surrounded by interestrevealing the dead body of the suicide-ing circumstances; when shown in the the bare erag and the stunted tree, diversi- moonlight of memory; when linked to fying the scenery of the saline wilderness, strong passion; or when touched by the the house on the heath, creaking in the ray of imagination. Then, in Emerson's storm, and telling strange stories of misery words, even the corpse is found to have and crime-the pine in some wintry wood, added a solemn ornament to the house which had acted as the gallows of some mi- where it lay. But it is the peculiarity and serable man—the gorse surrounding with the daring of this poet, that he often, not yellow light the encampment of the gypsies always, tries us with truth and nothing but -the few timid flowers, or “weeds of glo-truth, as if to bring the question to an rious feature,” which adorn the brink of issue, whether, in nature, absolute truth be ocean—the snow putting out the fire of the not essential though severe poetry. pauper, or lying unmelted on his pillow of this question, certainly, issue was never so death-the web of the spider blinding the fully joined before. In even Wordsworth's cottager's window—the wheel turned by eye there is a misty glimmer of imagination, the meagre hand of contented or cursing through which all objects, low as well as penury—the cards trembling in the grasp of high, are seen. Even his " five blue eggs” the desperate debauchee-the day stocking gleam upon him through a light which comes forming the cap by night, and the garter at not from themselves; which comes, it may midnight-the dunghill becoming the acci- be, from the Great Bear, or Arcturus and dental grave of the drunkard-the poor- his sons. And, when he does, as in some house of forty years ago, with its patched of his feebler verses, strive to see out of windows, its dirty environs, its moist and this medium, he drops his mantle, loses his miserable walls, its inmates all snuff, and vision, and describes little better than selfishness, and sin--the receptacle of the would his own “Old Cumberland Beggar." outlawed members of English society (how Shakspeare in his witches' caldron, and different from “ Poosie Nancy's!"), with Burns in his “haly table,” are shockingly its gin-gendered quarrels, its appalling circumstantial; but the element of imaginblasphemies, its deep debauches, its fero- ation creeps in amid all the disgusting decity without fun, its huddled murders, and tails, and the light that never was on sea its shrieks of disease dumb in the uproar or shore disdains not to rest on around the Bedlam of forty years ago, newt,” “ toe of frog,” “ baboon's blood,” with its straw on end under the restlessness the garter that strangled the babe, the fo the insane; its music of groans, and grey hairs sticking to the half of the parrishrieks and mutterings of still more melan- cidal knife, and all the rest of the fell incholy meaning ; its keepers cold and stern, gredients. Crabbe, on the other hand, as the snow-covered cliffs above the wintry would have described the five blue eggs, and cataract ; its songs dying away in despair- besides the materials of the nest, and the ing gurgles down the miserable throat; its kind of hedge where it was built-like a cells how devoid of monastic silence; its bird-nesting schoolboy; but would never confusion worse confounded, of gibbering have given the “gleam.” He would, as idiocy, monomania absorbed and absent accurately as Hecate, Canidia, or Cuttyfrom itself as well as from the world, and sark, have given an inventory of the ingrehowling frenzy; its daylight saddened as it dients of the hell-broth, or of the curiosities shines into the dim, vacant, or glaring eyes on the haly table, had they been presented of those wretched men; and its moonbeams to his eye; but could not have conceived shedding a more congenial ray upon the them, nor would have slipped in, that one solitude, or the sick-bed, or the death-bed flashing word, that single cross ray of imaof derangement : such familiar faces of gination, which it required to elevate and want, guilt, and woe-of nakedness, ste- startle them into higli ideal life. And yet rility, and shame, does Crabbe delight in in reading his pictures of poor-houses, &c., showing us; and is, in very truth, we are compelled to say, “ Well, that is the last gasp of the poetic spirit; and, buchadnezzar watehing great Babylon, or moreover, perfect and matchless as it is in Napoleon reviewing his legions, will not its kind, it is not worthy of the powers of stand comparison with himself seated amid its author, who can, and has at other times the broad maps, and rich prints, and numerisen into much loftier ground.”
poetry after all, for it is truth; but it is "Nature's sternest painter, yet the best.” poetry of comparatively & low order it is
rous volumes which his wealth has enabled We may illustrate still further what we him to collect, and his wisdom entitled him mean by comparing the different ways in to enjoy-all such hieroglyphics of interest which Crabbe" and Foster (certainly a and meaning has Foster included and interprose poet) deal with a library. Crabbe preted in one gloomy but noble meditation, describes minutely and successfully the and his introduction to Doddridge is the onter features of the volumes, their colors, true “ Poem on the Library.” clasps, the stubborn ridges of their bind- Is Crabbe's description, the great want ings, the illustrations which adorn them, is of selection. He writes inventories. He &c., so well that you feel yourself among describes all that his eye sees with cold, them, and they become sensible to touch stern, lingering accuracy---he marks down almost as to sight. But there he stops, all the items of wretchedness, poverty, and and sadly fails, we think, in bringing out vulgar sin--counts the rags of the mendjthe living and 'moral interest which gathers cant-and, as Hazlitt has it, describes a around a multitude of books, or even around cottage like one who has entered it to disa single volume. This Foster has amply train for rent. His copies, consequently, done. The speaking silence of a number would be as displeasing as their originals, of books, where, though it were the wide were it not that imagination is so much less Bodleian or Vatican, not one whisper could vivid than eyesight, that we can endure in be heard, and yet, where, as in an ante- picture what we cannot in reality, and that chamber, so many great spirits are waiting our own minds, while reading, can cast that to deliver their messages-their churchyard softening and ideal veil over disgusting obstillness continuing even when their readers jects which the poet himself has not sought, are moving to their pages, in joy or agony, or has failed to do. Just as in viewing as to the sound of martial instruments— even the actual scene, we might have seen their awaking, as from deep slumber, to it through the medium of imaginative illaspeak with miraculous organ, like the shell sion, so the same medium will more probawhich has only to be lifted, and “pleased bly invest and beautify its transcript in the it remembers its august abodes, and mur- pages of the poet. murs as the ocean murmurs there”- their As a moral poet and sketcher of men, power, so silent and sublime, of drawing Crabbe is characterized by a similar choice tears, kindling blushes, awakening laugh- of subject, and the same stern fidelity. ter, calming or quickening the motions of The mingled yarn of man's every-day lifethe life's blood, Talling to repose, or rousing the plain homely virtues, or the robust and to restlessness, often giving life to the soul, burly vices of Englishmen—the quiet tears and sometimes giving death to the body, which fall on humble beds—the passions the meaning which radiates from their which flame up in lowly bosoms—the amari quiet countenances--the tale of shame or aliquid-the deep and permanent bitterness glory which their title-pages tell--the me- which lies at the heart of the down-trodden mories suggested by the character of their English poor-the comedies and tragedies authors, and of the readers who have of the fire-side—the lovers' quarrels—the throughout successive centuries perused them unhappy marriages-the vicissitudes of com-the thrilling thoughts excited by the mon fortunes-the early deaths—the odd sight of names and notes inscribed on their characters--the lingering superstitions-all margins or blank pages by hands long since the elements, in short, which make up the mouldered in the dust, or by those dear to simple annals of lowly or middling society, us as our life's blood, who had been snatch- are the materials of this poet's song. Had ed from our sides—the aspects of gaiety or he been a Scottish clergyman we should of gloom connected with the bindings and have said that he had versified his Sessionthe age of volumes—the effects of sunshine book; and certainly many curious chapters playing as if on a congregation of happy of human life might be derived from such faces, making the duskiest shine, and the a document, and much light cast upon the gloomiest be glad—or of shadow suffusing devious windings and desperate wickedness a sombre air over all the joy of the pro- of the heart, as well as upon that inextinprietor of a large library who feels that Ne-guishable instinct of good which resides in
it. Crabbe, perhaps, has confined himself ( much of this coolness resulted from too exclusively to this circle of common Crabbe's early practice as a surgeon. things which he found lying around him. That combination of warm inward symHe has seldom burst its confines, and touch-pathy and outward phlegm--of impulsive ed the loftier themes, and snatched the benevolence and mechanical activity-of higher laurels which were also within his heart all fire and manner all ice-which reach. He has contented himself with be- distinguishes his poetry, is very charactering a Lillo (with occasional touches of istic of the medical profession. Shakspeare) instead of something far In correspondence with this Crabbe genegreater. He has, however, in spite of this rally leans to the darker side of things. self-injustice, effected much. He has This, perhaps, accounts for his favor in the proved that a poct, who looks resolutely sight of Byron, who saw his own eagle-eyed around him—who stays at home—who fury at corroborated by Crabbe's draws the realities which are near kim, stern and near-sighted vision.
And it was instead of the phantoms that are afar--who accounted for partly by Crabbe's early profeels and records the passion and poetry of fession, partly by his early circumstances, his daily life—may found a firm and en- and partly by the clerical office he assumed. during reputation. With. the dubious Nothing so tends to sour us with mankind exception of Cowper, no one has made out as a general refusal on their part to give this point so effectually as Grabbe.
us bread. How can a man love a race And in his mode of treating such themes, which seems combined to starve him? what strikes us first is his perfect coolness. This misanthropical influence Crabbe did Few poets have reached that calm of his not entirely escape. As a medical man, which reminds us of Nature's own great too, he had come in contact with little else quiet eye, looking down upon her mon- than man's human miseries and diseases ; strous births, her strange anomalies, and and as a clergyman, he had occasion to see her more ungainly forms. Thus Crabbe much sin and sorrow: and these, combinsees the loathsome, and does not loathe-ing with the melancholy incidental to the handles the horrible, and shudders not-poetic temperament, materially discolored feels with firm finger the palpitating pulse his view of life. He became a searcher of of the infanticide or the murderer--and dark-of the darkest bosoms; and we see snuffs a certain sweet odor in the evil him sitting in the gloom of the hearts of savors of putrefying misery and crime. thieves, murderers, and maniacs, and This delight, however, is not an inhuman, watching the remorse, rancor, fury, dull but entirely an artistic delight-perhaps, disgust, ungratified appetite, and ferocious indeed, springing from the very strength or stupified despair, which are their inand width of his sympathies. We admire mates. And even when he pictures livelier as well as wonder at that almost asbestos scenes and happier characters, there steals. quality of his mind, through which he re- over them a shade of sadness, reflected tains his composure and critical circum- from his favorite subjects, as a dark, spection so cool amid the conflagrations of sinister countenance in a room will throw a passionate subjects, which might have gloom over many happy and beautiful faces burned others to ashes. Few, indeed, can beside it. walk through such fiery furnaces unscathed. In his pictures of life, we find an unBut Crabbe-what an admirable physician frequent but true pathos. This is not had he made to a Lunatic Asylum! How often, however, of the profoundest or most severely would he have sifted out every heart-rending kind. The grief he paints is grain of poetry from those tumultuous ex- not that which refuses to be comforted posures of the human mind! What clean whose expressions, like Agamemrion's face, breasts had he forced the patients to make ! must be veiled—which dilates almost to What tales had he wrung out from them, despair, and complains almost to blasphemy to which Lewis's tales of terror were feeble -and which, when it looks to Heaven, it is and trite! How he would have
« With that frantic air manded them, by his mild, steady, and
Which seems to ask if a God be there." piercing eye! And yet how calm would his brain have remained, when others, even Crabbe's, exhibited in
" Phoebe of a more prosaic mould, were reeling in Dawson, and other of his tales, gentle, sympathy with the surrounding delirium ! submissive; and its pathetic effects are It were, indeed, worth while inquiring how produced by the simple recital of circum