« AnteriorContinuar »
O nymph, approach! while yet the temperate sun
Throws his young maiden beams,
The earth's fair bosom ; while the streaming veil
Protects thy modest blooms
Sweet is thy reign, but short :-the red dog-star
Thy greens, thy flowerets all
Reluctant shall I bid thee then farewell :
Nor Summer's ruddiest fruits,
Can aught for thee atone,
Each joy and new-born hope
• Animula, vagula, blandula'
Life! I know not what thou art,
And in this strange divorce,
To the vast ocean of empyreal flame
From whence thy essence came
Or dost thou, hid from sight,
Wait, like some spell-bound knight, Through blank oblivious years the appointed our To break thy trance and reassume thy power? Yet canst thou without thought or feeling be? O say what art thou when no more thou'rt thee?
Life! we've been long together,
'Tis hard to part when friends are dear ;
Choose thine own time;
Bid me Good morning.
[GEORGE CRABBE was born at Aldborough in Suffolk, of poor parents, on the 24th of December, 1754. He was apprenticed in his fourteenth year to a surgeon at Wickham Brook, near Bury St. Edmunds, and after completing his term actually practised at Aldborough. He was not however successful in his profession, and being reduced to great extremities, he determined to go to London, and to devote himself to literature, for which he had at an early age discovered a strong bent. For a long time he sought in vain for patronage, but was at length fortunate enough to attract the attention of Burke, through whose kindly influence The Library (1781) was favourably received by the public. In the same year he took orders, and two years later published The Village, after first submitting it to the revision of Johnson. This work at once established his reputation; but instead of following up his success, for the period of twenty-four years he published but one poem, The Newspaper (1785), and devoted himself almost entirely to parish work. In 1807 appeared The Parish Register, which was succeeded in 1810 by The Borough, in 1812 by Tales in Verse, and in 1819 by Tales of the Hall. This was his last poetical work, though his death did not take place till February 3, 1832, thirteen years later.]
Crabbe's poems form a very distinct landmark in the course of English 1 terature. Nothing is more noticeable in the latter part of the eighteenth century than the apparent exhaustion of poetical material. Poetry thrives in an agitated atmosphere ; it languishes in a state of settled repose. For more that a century before the appearance of Crabbe the prevailing tone of English poetry had been political. The interest of the people had been absorbed in the establishment of their constitutional liberties, which they had secured at the price of civil war and a disputed succession, and what was felt in society was reflected in verse. The political passions of the period show themselves in different forms in the controversial satires of Dryden, in the personal satires of Pope, in the dramatic declamation of Addison, and at last in the more composed moralising of Johnson and Goldsmith. But by degrees, under a settled aynasty, the air is cleared of serious political storms. And as the times become more quiet, we observe a rapid ebb in the inspiration of the poets who carried on the traditions peculiar to the eighteenth century. Churchill is but a poor third in satire to Dryden and Pope; The Traveller and The Vanity of Human Wishes are ill replaced in the didactic class of poetry by Erasmus Darwin's frizid Loves of the Plants, or Payne Knight's Progress of Society. In another direction the strong centrifugal tendency of poetry, afterwards so fully developed by the Lake School, first discovers itself in the solitary and meditative muse of Cowper, and in the Doric provincialism of Burns.
Another feature equally observable in late eighteenth-century poetry is the decline of the Romantic pastoralism of the classical Renaissance. From The Shepheards Calender down to the Pastorals of Pope this literary fashion of thought had continued to afford materials to the English poet. It was derived from the fiction of a Golden Age of virtue and innocence, traces of which were supposed still to linger in the simplicity of country life. A belief so artificial could only thrive in an artificial atmosphere ; it was congenial to Courts. For a long period 'every flowery courtier writ romance,’and in all that portion of society which pretended to good breeding, each lover thought of himself as a shepherd, and sighed for his mistress as a nymph. Slight indications of the fashion are to be found even in poets so plain and unaffected as Cowper and Burns. But as wealth accumulated, and the democratic influence of cities extended, it was gradually felt that for a rich and refined society to be always emuiating the manners of shepherds was somewhat absurd. This feeling found a vigorous expo nent in Johnson, whose Lives of the Poets abound in expressions of contempt for the insipidity and unreality of pastoral poetry.
Of these conditions of taste Crabbe dexterously availed himself. He saw that the questions which were becoming of paramount interest in men's minds were no longer political but social. Himself born and bred among the poor, he knew that there was a vast range of human interest in the actions, passions, and manners of common life, of which the general reader, though they lay immediately under his eyes, was completely ignorant. At the same time his knowledge of English literature enabled him to perceive how effective a contrast might be drawn between rural life as it was conventionally described by poets, and as it existed in reality. On this principle he designed and executed The Village. Beginning with a brief but telling allusion to the fiction of the Golden
Age, he proceeded to draw with a stern fidelity the picture of the actual village, with its sterile soil, its half-starved inhabitants, and its smuggling surroundings ; he described the sufferings of the peasant concealed by pride or suppressed by necessity, the hopelessness of his prospect, in the workhouse which awaited his old age, and where he could look for no reliet for his material and spiritual wants except such as might be afforded by the quack doctor or the fox-hunting parson. His apology for such a representation of reality was, he said, the necessity of showing how small was the difference between the different ranks of men, when measured by the standard of their common nature. The plea was felt to be just ; many whose imaginations had before been satisfied with the dreamland of conventional fancy were induced to extend their sympathies to the drama of actual life; The Village speedily became popular.
Yet though Crabbe had thus established for himself a permanent place among the English poets, he seemed in no haste to work further the vein of poetry which he had discovered. After the publication of The Newspaper-a somewhat uninteresting composition-he seemed almost to lay aside literary ambition, and twentytwo years elapsed before the appearance of The Parish Register. This
poem is an extension of the subject treated in The Village ; he takes up again the old text, “Auburn and Eden can be found 20 more, but experience of the world had enlarged his views, and his descriptions of life and character in the Register are not so unvaryingly dark as in the earlier poem. To his view of country 'tempers, manners, morals, customs, arts,' he now joined some highly finished episodes of individual life, one of which, the story of Phæbe Dawson, is specially memorable as having given pleasure to Fox in his last illness. In his next poem The Borough, trgether with many admirable pictures of that Suffolk coast lise and scenery, which always exercised a strong spell on his imaginations, he inserted several connected tales, illustrative of the peculiar temptations and passions to which the poor are exposed, and having now discovered his extraordinary power of tracing the working of the human mind, he soon afterwards published twenty
Tales of various kinds, tragic, pathetic, and humorous. These were entirely wanting in connection ; and it was probably a fear that the appearance of a new set of separate stories might expose him to the charge of repeating himself, which caused him to attempt a kind of unity in his last work, Tales of the Hall.