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In this the stories, though in every other respect resembling the first series, were connected with each other by the persons of the narrators, two brothers, who having been parted since their youth, meet when middle-aged in the house of the elder, and amuse each other with their different experiences.
Though Crabbe occupies so marked a place in the history of English poetry, he has not met in our own generation with all the attention which he deserves. Something of this comparative neg‐ lect is to be attributed to changes in society; the altered position of the poor has fortunately deprived his poems of much of the reality they once possessed. Something too must be ascribed to the revolutions of taste. We have been long accustomed to look at Nature and peasant life through the philosophic medium created for us by Wordsworth and his followers. From the poetical standpoint of this school Crabbe is as far removed as he is from the conventional pastoralism of his predecessors. His intention is simply to paint things as they are, and modern ideology therefore finds in his poetry an uncongenial atmosphere. But beyond this it must be allowed that of all standard English writers Crabbe makes the largest demands on the patience of his readers. His great defect is an incurable want of taste. Like Rembrandt, to whose work his poetical chiaroscuro has a striking analogy, he seems, while impressing the imagination with powerful effects of light and shade, to delight at the same time in the exhibition of the most vulgar details. These he introduces into his poetry without the slightest attempt at generalisation or selection. In the midst of a passage of sustained tragic pathos he shocks us by the appearance of some incredibly mean thought or word; his shrewd humour runs without restraint into coarseness; and he frequently oversteps the line that divides the horrible from the terrible.
Yet after making full deduction for these defects we have still left a body of powerful and original poetry, and indeed the defects themselves arise from that strong bent of genius which makes Crabbe's verse such an admirable foil to the insincerity of the fashionable pastoral. The extraordinary minuteness of his descriptions of actual nature becomes excusable when we take into consideration the deep moral truth which he seeks to convey in them. As an observer and painter of the individual truths of nature no poet has ever approached him. He had a scientific interest and curiosity about all living objects, and this, though it impaired his sense of beauty, gave him an unrivalled power
in placing the scenes and persons he described before the mind of the reader. Whether he paints a storm on the East Coast, or exhibits the succession of images passing through the imagination of the condemned felon, or shows the mental stages by which the enthusiast of virtue proceeds to crime, everything is represented with an appearance of scientific precision, which in an ordinary poet would be offensive, but which from Crabbe's point of view is just and necessary. At the same time, with all this Dutch minuteness, he possessed, as we see in The Lover's Fourney, and Delay has Danger, exceptional skill in describing Nature in the aspect which she presents to minds labouring under strong emotions. His powers of pathos are extraordinary, and his faculty of giving pain is often put to an illegitimate use. When his humour is under his control it is admirable, and of all the poets who have used the heroic couplet, Pope himself not excepted, he is the best writer of easy dialogue. As a painter of character he evidently modelled himself on Pope, but the style of the two poets is as different as their genius. Pope, an unequalled observer within a limited compass, is most careful to choose rare types and to embody their prominent features in the most select and pregnant words; Crabbe, on the other hand, trusts to the largeness of his experience, and to the general human interest of his descriptions, and, though preserving the antithetical form of Pope's verse, makes comparatively little attempt at epigrammatic expression. It is noticeable that, as his subjects become more numerous and extended, his care in composition seems to diminish; there is far more literary finish in The Village than in Tales of the Hall.
W. J. COURTHOPE.
THE VILLAGE AS IT IS.
[From The Village, Book I.]
Fled are those times, when in harmonious strains,
No shepherds now, in smooth alternate verse,
On Mincio's banks, in Cæsar's bounteous reign,
No; cast by fortune on a frowning coast,
Rank weeds, that every art and care defy,
The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf;
O'er the young shoot the charlock throws a shade,
THE CONVICT'S DREAM.
[From The Borough, Letter xxiii.]
Yes! e'en in sleep the impressions all remain,
Now comes the dream again: it shows each scene
Then too the comfort he enjoyed at home,
The days of joy; the joys themselves are come ;-
Of his loved maid, when first her hand he took,
All now is present; 'tis a moment's gleam,
He goes through shrubby walks these friends among,