1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Crabbe

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:404-05.



GEORGE CRABBE was born at Aldborough, in Suffolk, on the 24th of December, 1754, where his father and grandfather were officers of the customs. He received his education at a neighbouring school, where he gained a prize for one of his poems, and left it with sufficient knowledge to qualify him for an apprentice to a surgeon and apothecary in his native town. His poetical taste is said to have been assisted in developing itself by a perusal of all the scraps of verses which his father used to tear off from different newspapers, and which young Crabbe collected together, and got most of them by heart. The attractions of the muse had probably overcome those of Esculapius, for, on the completion of his apprenticeship, giving up all hope of succeeding in his profession, he determined at once to quit it, and to depend for support upon his literary abilities. Accordingly, in 1778, he came to London with little more in his pocket than a bundle of his best poems, and took a lodging in the city, where he read and composed, but could prevail upon no bookseller to publish. At length, in 1780, he ventured to print, at his own expense, a poem, entitled The Candidate which was favourably noticed in The Monthly Review, to the editor of which it was addressed. Finding, however, that he stood no chance of success or popularity whilst he remained personally unknown, he is said to have introduced himself to Edmund Burke, who received him with great kindness, and read his productions with approbation. Our author fortunately found in this gentleman both a friend and a patron; he took Crabbe into his house, and introduced him to Fox; and, under their united auspices, appeared his poem of The Library, in 1781. In the same year, he was ordained deacon, and, in the following one, priest, and, for a short time, acted as curate at Aldborough. About the same period, he entered his name at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, but withdrew it without graduating, although he was subsequently presented with the degree of B.C.L. After residing for some time at Belvoir Castle, as chaplain to the Duke of Rutland, by the recommendation of Mr. Burke, our author was introduced to Lord-chancellor Thurlow, who bestowed upon him, successively, the living of Frome St. Quintin, in Dorsetshire, and the rectories of Muston and West Allington, in the diocese of Lincoln. In the meantime, in 1785, he published The Newspaper, a poem; followed by a complete edition of his works, in 1807, which were received with marked and universal approbation.

In 1810, appeared his admirable poem of The Borough; in 1812, he published his Tales in Verse; and, in 1819, his celebrated Tales of the Hall, with which he concluded his known poetical labours. He had, in the interim, been presented to the rectory of Trowbridge, with the smaller benefice of Croxton Kerryel, in Leicestershire, where he still resides. His only prose publications are a funeral sermon on one of his, early noble patrons, Charles, Duke of Rutland, preached in the chapel of Belvoir Castle, in 1789; and An Essay on the Natural History of the Vale of Belvoir, written for Mr. Nichol's History of Leicestershire.

The works of Crabbe have gone through several editions, and deservedly become popular; yet such is the present state of the public taste, that, it is said, Mr. Murray declines publishing a volume of verse, which he has for some time had in his possession, of our poet's composition. Mr. Wilson Croker has justly observed of Crabbe, that his having taken a view of life too minute, too humiliating, and too painfully just, may have rendered his popularity less brilliant than that of some of his contemporaries; though for accurate description, and deep knowledge of human nature, no poet of the present age is equal to him. The great charm of his poetry lies in his masterly treatment of the most ordinary subjects, and in his heart-rending but true descriptions of the scenes which his muse delights to visit, — those of poverty and distress. He depicts nature living and circumstantially; and, in this respect, his poetry may justly be compared to the painting of Teniers and Ostade.

In private life, Mr. Crabbe is universally esteemed; and, in his own parish, his kindness to the poor, and uniform benevolence to all around him, have rendered him the idol of Trowbridge and its neighbourhood.