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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, which his eye distinctly sees, and which in part he makes visible to his readers. It was even as the darkness of cells has been sometimes peopled to the view of the solitary prisoner, and spiders seemed angels, in the depths of his dungeon. We can fancy, too, in Crabbe's mind, a feeling of pity for those unloved spots, and those neglected glories. We can fancy him saying, "let| VOL. XI. No. I.

1

scaur of the Nith, and saw the waters red
and turbid below; or walked in a windy
day by the side of a plantation, and heard
the "sound of a gong" upon the tops of
the trees or when he exclaimed, with a
calm simplicity of bitterness which is most
affecting-

"The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine."

Oh! where, indeed, can the unhappy re

laces, or Alpine peaks. This, at least, is true of his "Childe Harold," and his earlier pieces. In the later productions of his pen, he goes to the opposite extreme, and alights, with a daring yet dainty foot, upon all shunned and forbidden things-reminds us of the raven in the Deluge, which found rest for the sole of her foot upon carcases,

pair, to escape from their own sorrows, or worse, from the unthinking glee or constitutional cheerfulness of others, more fitly than into the wastes and naked places of Nature? She will not then and there seem to insult them with her laughing luxuriance --her foliage fluttering, as if in vain display, with the glossy gilding of her flowers, 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 older voice. She will soothe them by a sterner ministry. She will teach them "old truths, abysmal truths, awful truths." She will answer their sighs by the groans of the Creation travailing in pain; suck up their tears in the sweat of her great agonies; reflect their tiny wrinkles in those deep stabs and scars on her forehead, which speak of struggle and contest; give back the gloom of their brows in the frowns of her forests, her mountain solitudes, and her waste midnight darkness; infuse something, too, of her own sublime expectancy into their spirits; and dismiss them from her society, it may be sadder, but certainly wiser men. How admirably is Nature suited to all moods of all men!. In spring, she is gay with the light-hearted; in summer, gorgeous as its sun to those fiery spirits who seem made for a warmer day; in autumn, she spreads over all hearts a mellow and unearthly joy; and even in winter when her temple is deserted of the frivolous and the timid, who quit it along with the smile of the sun-she attracts her own few but faithful votaries, who love her in her naked sculpture, as well as in her glowing pictorial hues, and who enjoy her solemn communion none the less that they enjoy it by themselves. To use the words of a forgotten poet, addressing Spring

Thou op'st a storehouse for all hues of men.

To hardihood thou, blustering from the North,

Roll'st dark-hast sighs for them that would com

plain;

Sharp winds to clear the head of wit and worth; Aud melody for those that follow mirth;

Clouds for the gloomy; tears for those that weep; Flowers blighted in the bud for those that birth Untimely sorrow o'er; and skies where sweep Fleets of a thousand sail for them that plough the deep."

Crabbe, as a descriptive poet, differs from other modern masters of the art, alike in his selection of subjects, and in his mode of treating the subjects he does select. Byron moves over nature with a fastidious and aristocratic step-touching only upon objects already interesting or ennobled, upon battle fields, castellated ruins, Italian pa

where modesty and reserve alike have forbidden entrance-and ventures, though still not like a lost archangel, to tread the burning marl of Hell, the dim gulf of Hades, the shadowy ruins of the Pre-Adamitic world, and the crystal pavement of Heaven. Moore practises a principle of more delicate selection, resembling some nice fly which should alight only upon flowers, whether natural or artificial, if so that flowers they seemed to be; thus, from sunny bowers, and moonlit roses, and gardens, and blushing skies, and ladies' dresses, does the bard of Erin extract his finest poetry. Shelley and Coleridge attach themselves almost exclusively to the great-understanding this term in a wide sense, as including much that is grotesque and much that is homely, which the magic of their genius sublimates to a proper pitch of keeping with the rest. Their usual walk is swelling and buskined; their common talk is of great rivers, great forests, great seas, great continents; or else of comets, suns, constellations, and firmaments-as that of all half-mad, wholly miserable, and opium-fed genius is apt to be. Sir Walter Scott, who seldom grappled with the gloomier and grander features of his country's scenery (did he ever describe Glenco or Foyers, or the wildernesses around Ben mac Dhui ?), had-need we say? the most exquisite eye for all picturesque and romantic aspects, in sea, shore, or sky; and in the quick perception of this element of the picturesque lay his principal, if not only descriptive power. Wordsworth, again, seems always to be standing above, describes. He seldom looks up in rapt adthough not stooping over, the objects he miration of what is above; the bending furze-bush and the lowly broom-the nest lying in the level clover-field-the tarn sinking away seemingly before his eye into darker depths-the prospect from the mountain summit cast far beneath him; at highest, the star burning low upon the mountain's ridge, like an "untended watchfire;" these are the objects which he loves to describe, and these may stand as emblems of 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 dis-
marsh 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 interest-
revealing the dead body of the suicide-ing circumstances; when shown in the
the bare crag 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. On
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 imagin-
blasphemies, its deep debauches, its fero- ation creeps in amid all the disgusting de-
city 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
eye of
around the Bedlam of forty years ago, newt,'
99 66 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 parri-
shrieks and mutterings of still more melan- cidal knife, and all the rest of the fell in-
choly 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 Cutty-
from itself as well as from the world, and sark, have given an inventory of the ingre-
howling 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 ima-
of derangement: such familiar faces of gination, which it required to elevate and
want, guilt, and woe-of nakedness, ste- startle them into high 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
poetry after all, for it is truth; but it is
poetry of comparatively a low order—it is

"Nature's sternest painter, yet the best."

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the last gasp of the poetic spirit; and, | buchadnezzar watching great Babylon, or morcover, 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.”

rous volumes which his wealth has enabled him to collect, and his wisdom entitled him to enjoy-all such hieroglyphics of interest and meaning has Foster included and interpreted in one gloomy but noble meditation, and his introduction to Doddridge is the true "Poem on the Library."

We may illustrate still further what we mean by comparing the different ways in which Crabbe and Foster (certainly a prose poet) deal with a library. Crabbe describes minutely and successfully the outer features of the volumes, their colors, clasps, the stubborn ridges of their bind- In 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 mendithe 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, Tulling 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. 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

Had

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 greater. He has, however, in spite of this self-injustice, effected much. He has proved that a poct, who looks resolutely around him-who stays at home-who draws the realities which are near him, instead of the phantoms that are afar--who feels and records the passion and poetry of his daily life-may found a firm and enduring reputation. With the dubious exception of Cowper, no one has made out this point so effectually as Grabbe.

In correspondence with this Crabbe generally leans to the darker side of things. This, perhaps, accounts for his favor in the sight of Byron, who saw his own eagle-eyed fury at man corroborated by Crabbe's stern and near-sighted vision. And it was accounted for partly by Crabbe's early prefession, partly by his early circumstances, and partly by the clerical office he assumed. Nothing so tends to sour us with mankind as a general refusal on their part to give 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 quality of his mind, through which he retains his composure and critical circumspection so cool amid the conflagrations of passionate subjects, which might have burned others to ashes. Few, indeed, can walk through such fiery furnaces unscathed. But Crabbe-what an admirable physician had he made to a Lunatic Asylum! How severely would he have sifted out every grain of poetry from those tumultuous exposures of the human mind! What clean breasts had he forced the patients to make! What tales had he wrung out from them, to which Lewis's tales of terror were feeble and trite! How he would have commanded them, by his mild, steady, and piercing eye! And yet how calm would his brain have remained, when others, even of a more prosaic mould, were reeling in sympathy with the surrounding delirium! It were, indeed, worth while inquiring how

scenes and happier characters, there steals over them a shade of sadness, reflected from his favorite subjects, as a dark, sinister countenance in a room will throw a gloom over many happy and beautiful faces beside it.

In his pictures of life, we find an unfrequent but true pathos. This is not often, however, of the profoundest or most heart-rending kind. The grief he paints is not that which refuses to be comfortedwhose expressions, like Agamemnon's face, must be veiled-which dilates almost to despair, and complains almost to blasphemy and which, when it looks to Heaven, it is

"With that frantic air

Which seems to ask if a God be there."

Crabbe's, as exhibited in "Phoebe Dawson," and other of his tales, is gentle, submissive; and its pathetic effects are produced by the simple recital of circum

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