1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Crabbe

Anonymous, in "The Departed of XXXII" Fraser's Magazine 1 (December 1832) 751-52.



Crabbe, a great name in any literature, though not attaining to the highest praise of genius, is among the deaths of the year. He had outlived, not indeed his fame, for talent never dies, but the class of poets to which he had originally belonged. Let Lord Byron pretend what he may, the didactic of Pope is dead among us, and Crabbe's adherence to its form, if not its essence, rendered it impossible that he could command the deep-seated admiration of his contemporaries. The pathos of some of his pieces will make them live for ever; but what may be called the conventional part of his poetry is gone already. Even in his pathetic he made a mistake. He drew the crimes and vices of the poor, sympathising little, if at all, with the privations and misery from which their misfortunes proceed. He wrote verse — and touching and pathetic verse it often was — in the spirit of Malthus, not of Sadler; and the better nature of the world could not avoid being somewhat revolted, in spite of the powerful writing and the harrowing emotion of Crabbe's poems, by the cruel fidelity with which vice of low degree, and all its miserable consequences, were painted, without a word of palliation or excuse. How differently do we feel while reading Goldsmith from the manner in which we are affected by Crabbe. Yet will he ever preserve a high name among us, and in his own school of poetry must be pronounced a magnate; one who infused into ornate and artificial forms of versification, a depth of feeling of which it had been deemed incapable, and a power which, except in satire, it had scarcely ever exhibited. The Village Workhouse — some of the Tales of the Hall — must remain as long as our literature endures; — and where are we to look for the equal of Sir Eustace Grey?