We receive the proofs of Mr. Crabbe's poetical existence, which are contained in this volume, with the same sort of feeling that would be excited by tidings of an antient friend, whom we no longer expected to hear of in this world. We rejoice in his resurrection both for his sake, and for our own but we feel also a certain movement of self-condemnation, for having been remiss in our inquiries after him, and somewhat too negligent of the honours which ought at any rate to have been paid to his memory.
It is now, we are afraid, upwards of twenty years since we were first struck with the vigour, originality, and truth of description of "The Village" and since we regretted that an author, who could write so well, should have written so little. From that time to the present, we have heard little of Mr Crabbe; and fear that he has been in a great measure lost sight of by the public, as well as by us. With a singular, and scarcely pardonable indifference to fame, he has remained, during this long interval, in patient or indolent repose; and, without making a single movement to maintain or advance the reputation he had acquired, has permitted others to usurp the attention which he was sure of commanding, and allowed himself to be nearly forgotten by a public, which reckons upon being reminded of all the claims which the living have on its favour. His former publications, though of distinguished merit, were perhaps too small in volume to remain long the objects of general attention, and seem, by some accident, to have been jostled aside in the crowd of more clamorous competitors.
Yet, though the name of Crabbe has not hitherto been very common in the mouths of our poetical critics, we believe there are few real lovers of poetry to whom, some of his sentiments and descriptions are not secretly familiar. There is a truth and a force in many of his delineations of rustic, life, which is calculated to sink deep into the memory; and, being confirmed by daily observation, they are recalled upon innumerable occasions, when the ideal pictures of more fanciful authors have lost all their interest. For ourselves at least, we profess to be indebted to Mr. Crabbe for many of these strong impressions; arid have known more than one of our unpoetical acquaintances who declared they could never pass by a parish workhouse, without thinking of the description of it they had read at school in the Poetical Extracts. The volume before us will renew, we trust, and extend many such impressions. It contains all the former productions of the author, with about double their bulk of new matter; most of it in the same taste and manner of composition with the former, and some of a kind of which we have had no previous example in this author. The whole, however, is of no ordinary merit, and will be found, we have little doubt, a sufficient warrant for Mr. Crabbe to take his place as one of the most original, nervous, and pathetic poets of the present century.
His characteristic, certainly, is force, and truth of description, joined for the most part to great selection and condensation of expression; — that kind of strength and originality which we meet with in Cowper, and that sort of diction and versification which we admire in Goldsmith. If he can be said to have imitated the manner of any author, it is Goldsmith, indeed, who has been the object of his imitation; and yet, his general train of thinking, and his views of society are so extremely opposite, that when "The Village" was first published, it was commonly considered as an antidote or answer to the more captivating representations of "the Deserted Village." Compared with this celebrated author, he will be found, we think, to have more vigour and less delicacy; and, while he must be admitted to be inferior in the fine finish and uniform beauty of his composition, we cannot help considering him as superior, both in the variety and the truth of his pictures. Instead of that uniform tint of pensive tenderness, which overspreads the whole poetry of Goldsmith, we find in Mr. Crabbe many gleams of gaiety and humour. Though his habitual views of life are more gloomy than those of his rival, his poetical temperament seems far more cheerful; and when the occasions of sorrow and rebuke are gone by, he can collect himself for sarcastic pleasantry, or unbend in innocent playfulness. His diction, though generally pure and powerful, is sometimes harsh, and sometimes quaint; and he has occasionally admitted a couplet or two in a state so unfinished, as to give a character of inelegance to the passages in which they occur. With a taste less disciplined and less fastidious than that of Goldsmith, he has, in, our apprehension, a keener eye for observation, and a readier hand for the delineation of what he has observed. There is less poetical keeping in his whole performance; but the groups of which it consists, are conceived, we think, with equal genius, and drawn with greater spirit as well as greater fidelity.
It is not quite fair, perhaps, thus to draw a detailed parallel between a living poet, and one whose reputation has been sealed by death, and by the immutable sentence of a surviving generation. Yet there are so few of his contemporaries to whom Mr. Crabbe bears any resemblance, that we can scarcely explain our opinion of his merit, without comparing him to some of his predecessors. There is one set of writers, indeed, from whose works those of Mr. Crabbe might receive all that elucidation which results from contrast, and from an entire opposition in all points of taste and opinion. We allude now to the Wordsworths, and the Southeys, and Coleridges, and all that misguided fraternity, that, with good intentions and extraordinary talents, are labouring to bring back our poetry to the fantastical oddity and puling childishness of Withers, Quarles, or Marvel. These gentlemen write a great deal about rustic life, as well as Mr. Crabbe; and they even agree with him in dwelling much on its discomforts; but nothing can be more opposite than the views they take of the subject, or the manner in which they execute their representation of them.
Mr. Crabbe exhibits the common people of England pretty much as they are, and as they must appear to every one who will take the trouble of examining into their condition; at the same time that he renders his sketches in a very high degree interesting and beautiful, — by selecting what is most fit for description, — by grouping them into such forms as must catch the attention or awake the memory, — and by scattering over the whole, such traits of moral sensibility, of sarcasm, and of useful reflection, as every one must feel to be natural, and own to be powerful. The gentlemen of the new school, on the other hand, scarcely ever condescend to take their subjects from any description of persons that are at all known to the common inhabitants of the world; but invent for themselves certain whimsical and unheard of beings, to whom they impute some fantastical combination of feelings, and labour to excite our sympathy for them, either by placing them in incredible situations, or by some strained and exaggerated moralization of a vague and tragical description. Mr. Crabbe, in short, shows us something which we have all seen, or may see, in real life; and draws from it such feelings and such reflections as every human being must acknowledge that it is calculated to excite. He delights us by the truth, and vivid and picturesque beauty of his representations, and by he force and pathos of the sensations with which we feel that they ought to be connected. Mr. Wordsworth and his associates show us something that mere observation never yet suggested to any one. They introduce us to beings whose existence at previously suspected by the acutest observers of nature, and excite an interest for them, more by an eloquent and refined analysis of their own capricious feelings, than by any obvious or very intelligible ground of sympathy in their situation. The common sympathies of our nature, and our general knowledge of human character, do not enable us either to understand or to enter into the feelings of their characters. They are unique specimens and varieties of their kind, and must be studied under a separate classification. They have an idiosyncrasy, upon which all common occurrences operate in a peculiar manner; and those who are best acquainted with human nature, and with other poetry, are at a loss to comprehend the new system of feeling and of writing which is here introduced to their notice. Instead of the men and women of ordinary humanity, we have certain moody and capricious personages, made after the poet's own heart and fancy, — acting upon principles, and speaking in a language of their own. Thus, instead of employing the plain vulgar character, which may be read by all the world, these writers make use of a sort of cypher, which can only be learned with pains and study and, dressing up all their persons in a kind of grotesque masquerade habit, they have given birth to a species of composition more fantastic and unnatural than a pastoral or an opera. Into this unnatural composition, however, they have introduced a great deal of eloquence and beauty, and have put many natural thoughts and touching expressions into the mouths of their imaginary persons. By this means, and by the novelty of their manner, they have sedu ced many into a great admiration of their genius, and even made some willing to believe, that their conception of character, is in itself just and natural, and that all preceding writers have been in an error with regard to that great element of poetry. Many, to be sure, found it impossible to understand either their precepts or their example; and, unable to recognize the traits of our common nature in the strange habiliments with which these ingenious persons had adorned it, gave up the attempt in despair; and, recurring to easier authors, looked on with mixed wonder and contempt, while they were collecting the suffrages of their admirers. Many, however, did understand a part; and, in their raised imaginations, fancied that they admired the whole: while others, who only guessed at a passage here and there, laboured, by their encomiums, to have it thought that there was nothing which passed their comprehension.
Those who are acquainted with the Lyrical Ballads, or the more recent publication of Mr. Wordsworth, will scarcely deny the justice of this representation; but in order to vindicate it to such as do not enjoy that inestimable advantage, we must beg leave to make a few hasty references to the former, and by far the least exceptionable of these productions.
A village schoolmaster, for instance, is a pretty common poetical character. Goldsmith has drawn him inimitably; so has Shenstone, with the slight change of sex; and Mr. Crabbe, in two passages, his followed their footsteps. Now, Mr. Wordsworth has a village schoolmaster also — a personage who makes no small figure in three or four of his poems. But by what traits is this worthy old gentleman delineated by the new poet? No pedantry — no innocent vanity of learning — no mixture of indulgence with the pride of power, and of poverty with the consciousness of rare acquirements. Every feature which belongs to the situation, or marks the character in common apprehension, is scornfully discarded by Mr. Wordsworth, who represents this grey-haired rustic pedagogue as a sort of half crazy, sentimental person, overrun with fine feelings, constitutional merriment, and a most humorous melancholy. Here are the two stanzas in which this consistent and intelligible character is pourtrayed. The diction is at least as new as the conception.
The sighs which Mathew heard were sighs
Of one tired out with "fear" and "madness;"
The tears which came to Mathew's eyes
Were tears of light — "the oil of gladness."
Yet sometimes, when the secret cup
Of still and serious thought went round,
He seemed as if he "drank it up,"
He felt with spirit so profound.
Thou "soul," of God's best "earthly mould," &c.
A frail damsel is a character common enough in all poems; and one upon which many fine and pathetic lines have been expended. Mr. Wordsworth has written more than three hundred lines on that subject but, instead of new images of tenderness, or delicate representation of intelligible feelings, he has contrived to tell us nothing whatever of the unfortunate fair one, but that her name is Martha Ray; and that she goes up to the top of a hill, in a red cloak, and cries "Oh misery!" All the rest of the poem is filled with a description of an old thorn and a pond, and of the silly stories which the neighbouring old women told about them. The sports of childhood, and the untimely death of promising youth, is also a common topic of poetry. Mr. Wordsworth has made some blank verse about it; but, instead of the delightful and picturesque sketches with which so many authors of moderate talents have presented us on this inviting subject, all that he is pleased to communicate of the rustic child, is, that he used to amuse himself with shouting to the owls, and hearing them answer. To make amends for this brevity, the process of his mimicry is most accurately described.
—With fingers interwoven, both hands
Press'd closely, palm to palm, and to his mouth
Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls,
That they might answer him.—
This is all we hear of him; and for the sake of this one accomplishment, we are told, that the author has frequently stood mute, and gazed on his grave for half an hour together!
Love, and the fantasies of lovers, have afforded an ample theme to poets of all ages. Mr. Wordsworth, however, has thought fit to compose a piece, illustrating this copious subject, by one single thought. A lover trots away to see his mistress one fine evening, staring all the way at the moon: when he comes to her door,
O mercy! to myself I cried,
If Lucy should be dead!
And there the poem ends!
Now, we leave it to any reader of common candour and discernment to say, whether these representations of character and sentiment are drawn from that eternal and universal standard of truth and nature, which every one is knowing enough to recognize, and no one great enough to depart from with impunity; or whether they are not formed, as we have described them, upon certain fantastic and affected peculiarities in the mind or fancy of the author, into which it is most improbable that many of his readers will enter, and which cannot, in some cases, be comprehended without much effort and explanation. Instead of multiplying instances of these wide and wilful aberrations from ordinary nature, it may be more satisfactory to produce the author's own admission of the narrowness of the plan upon which he writes, and of the very extraordinary circumstances which he himself sometimes thinks it necessary for his readers to keep in view, in order to understand the beauty or propriety of his delineations.
A pathetic tale of guilt or superstition may be told, we are apt to fancy, by the poet himself, in his general character of poet, with full as much effect as by any other person. An old nurse, at any rate, or a monk or parish clerk, is always at hand to give grace to such a narration. None of these, however, would satisfy Mr. Wordsworth. He has written a long poem of this sort in which he thinks it indispensably necessary to apprise the reader, that he has endeavoured to represent the language and sentiments of a particular character — of which character, he adds, "the reader will have a general notion, if he has ever known a man, a captain of a small trading vessel, for example, who, being past the middle age of has retired upon an annuity, or small independent income, to some village, or country town, of which he was not a native, or in which he had not been accustomed to live."
Now, we must be permitted to doubt, whether, among all the readers of Mr. Wordsworth, there is a single individual who had the happiness of knowing a person of this very peculiar description; or who is capable of forming any sort of conjecture of particular disposition and turn of thinking which such a combination of attributes would be apt to produce. To us, we will confess, the announce appears as ludicrous and absurd, as it would be in the author of an ode or an epic to say, "Of this piece the reader will necessarily form a very erroneous judgement, unless he is apprised, that it was written by a pale man in a green coat, — sitting cross-legged on an oaken stool, — with a scratch on his nose, and a spelling dictionary on the table."
From these childish and absurd affectations, we turn with pleasure to the manly sense and correct picturing of Mr. Crabbe; and, after being dazzled and made giddy with the elaborate raptures and obscure originalities of these new artists, it is refreshing to meet again with the nature and spirit of our old masters, in the nervous pages of the author now before us.
The poem that stands first in the volume, is that to which we have already alluded as having been first given to the public upwards of twenty years ago. It is so old, and has of late been so scarce, that it is probably new to many of our readers. We shall venture, therefore, to give a few extracts from it, as a specimen of Mr. Crabbe's original style of composition. We have already hinted at the description of the Parish Workhouse; and insert it as an example of no common poetry.
Their's is yon house that holds the parish poor,
Whose walls of mud scarce bear the broken door;
There, where the putrid vapours flagging, play,
And the dull wheel hums doleful through the day;
There children dwell who know no parents' care,
Parents, who know no children's love, dwell there;
Heart-broken matrons on their joyless bed,
Forsaken wives, and mothers never wed;
Dejected widows with unheeded tears,
And crippled age with more than childhood-fears;
The lame, the blind, and, far the happiest they!
The moping idiot and the madman gay.
Here, too, the lick their final doom receive,
Here brought amid the scenes of grief, to grieve
Where the loud groans from some sad chamber flow,
Mixt with the clamours of the crowd below.
Say ye, opprest by some fantastic woes,
Some jarring nerve that baffles your repose;
Who press the downy couch, while slaves advance
With timid eye, to read the distant glance
Who with sad prayers the weary doctor tease,
To name the nameless ever-new disease;
Who with mock patience dire complaints endure,
Which real pain, and that alone can cure;
How would ye bear in real pain to lye,
Despis'd, neglected, left alone to die?
How would ye bear to draw your latest breath,
Where all that's wretched pave the way for death?
Such is that room which one rude beam divides,
And naked rafters form the sloping sides;
Where the vile bands that bind the thatch are seen,
And lath and mud are all that lye between;
Save one dull pane, that, coarsely patch'd, gives way
To the rude tempest, yet excludes the day:
Here, on a matted flock, with dust o'erspread,
The drooping wretch reclines his languid head;
For him no hand the cordial cup applies, &c. p. 12-14.
The consequential apothecary, who gives an impatient attendance in these abodes of misery, is admirably described; but we pass to the last scene.
Now to the church behold the mourners come,
Sedately torpid and devoutly dumb;
The village children now their games suspend,
To see the bier that bears their antient friend;
For he was one in all their idle sport,
And like a monarch rul'd their little court;
The pliant bow he form'd, the flying ball,
The bat, the wicket, were his labours all;
Him now they follow to his grave, and stand
Silent and sad, and gazing, hand in hand;
While bending low, their eager eyes explore
The mingled relics of the parish poor:
The bell tolls late, the moping owl flies round,
Fear marks the flight and magnifies the sound;
The busy priest, detain'd by weightier care,
Defers his duty till the day of prayer;
And waiting long, the crowd retire distrest,
To think poor man's bones should lye unblest. p. 16, 17.
The scope of the poem is to show, that the villagers of real life have no resemblance to the villagers of poetry; that poverty, in sober truth, is very uncomfortable; and vice by no means confined to the opulent. The following passage is powerful, and finely written.
Or will you deem them amply paid in health,
Labour's fair child, that languishes with wealth?
Go then! and see them rising with the sun,
Through a long course of daily toil to run;
See them beneath the dog-star's raging heat,
When the knees tremble and the temples beat;
Behold them, leaning on their scythes, look o'er
The labour past, and toils to come explore;
See them alternate suns and showers engage,
And hoard up aches and anguish for their age;
Through lens and marshy moors their steps pursue,
When their warm pores imbibe the evening dew.
There may you see the youth of slender frame
Contend with weakness, weariness, and shame;
Yet urg'd along, and proudly loath to yield,
He strives to join his fellows of the field;
Till long-contending nature droops at last,
Declining health rejects his poor repast,
His cheerless spouse the coming danger sees,
And mutual murmurs urge the how disease.
Yet grant them health, 'tis not for us to tell,
Though the head droops not, that the heart is well;
Or will you praise that homely, healthy fare,
Plenteous and plain, that happy peasants share?
Oh trifle not with wants you cannot feel,
Nor mock the misery of a stinted meal;
Homely not wholesome, plain not plenteous, such
As you who praise would never deign to touch.
Ye gentle souls, who dream of rural ease,
Whom the smooth stream and smoother sonnet please;
Go if the peaceful cot your praises share,
Go look within, and ask if peace be there:
If peace be his — that drooping weary sire,
Or their's, that offspring round their feeble sire;
Or her's, that matron pale, whose trembling hand
Turns on the wretched hearth th' expiring brand. p. 8-10.
The following exhibits a fair specimen of the strokes of sarcasm, which the author, perhaps not very judiciously, intermingles with his description. He is speaking of the stern Justice who keeps the parish in awe.
To him with anger or with shame repair
The injur'd peasant and deluded fair.
Lo! at his throne the silent nymph appears,
Frail by her shape, but modest in her tears;
And while the stands abash'd, with conscious eye,
Some favourite female of her judge glides by;
Who views with scornful glance the strumpet's fate,
And thanks the stars that made her keeper great:
Near her the swain, about to bear for life
One certain evil, doubts 'twixt war and wife;
But, while the faltering damsel takes her oath,
Consents to wed, and so secures them both. p. 24.
We shall only give one other extract from this poem; and we select the following fine description of that peculiar sort of barrenness which prevails along the sandy and thinly inhabited shores of the channel.
Lo! where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er,
Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor;
From thence a length of burning sand appears,
Where the thin harvest waves its wither'd ears;
There thistles stretch their prickly arms afar,
And to the ragged infant threaten war;
There, poppies nodding, mock the hope of toil,
There the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil;
Hardy and high, above the slender sheaf,
The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf;
O'er the young shoot the charlock throws a shade,
And clasping tares cling round the sickly blade;
With mingled tints the rocky coasts abound,
And a sad splendour vainly shines around. p. 5, 6.
The next poem, and the longest in the volume, is now presented for the first time the public. It is dedicated, like the former, to the delineation of rural life "and characters, and is entitled, "The Village Register; " and, upon a very simple but singular plan, is divided into three parts, viz. Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials. After an introductory and general view of village manners, the Reverend author proceeds to present his readers with an account of all the remarkable baptisms, marriages and funerals, that appear on his register for the preceding year, with a sketch of the character and behaviour of the respective parties, and such reflections and exhortations as are suggested by the subject. The poem consists, therefore, of a series of portraits taken from the middling and lower ranks of rustic life, and delineated on occasions at once more common and more interesting, than any other that could well be imagined. They are selected, we think, with great judgment, and drawn with inimitable accuracy and strength of colouring. They are finished with much more minuteness and detail, indeed, than the more general pictures in "The Village;" and, on this account, may appear occasionally deficient in comprehension, or in dignity. They are, no doubt, executed in some instances with a Chinese accuracy; and enter into details which many readers may pronounce tedious and unnecessary. Yet, there is a justness and force in the representation which is entitled to something more than indulgence; and though several of the groups are confessedly composed of low and disagreeable subjects, still, we think that some allowance is to be made for the author's plan of giving a full and exact view of village life, which could not possibly be accomplished without including those baser varieties. He aims at an important moral effect by this exhibition; and must not be defrauded either of that, or of the praise which is due to the coarser efforts of his pen, out of deference to the sickly delicacy of his more fastidious readers. We admit, however, that there is more carelessness, as well as more quaintness in this poem than in the other; and that he has now and then apparently heaped up circumstances rather to gratify his own taste for detail and accumulation, than to give any additional effect to his description. With this general observation, we beg the reader's attention to the following abstract and citations.
The poem begins with a general view, first of the industrious and contented villager, and then of the profligate and disorderly. The first compartment is not so striking as the last. Mr. Crabbe, it seems, has a set of smugglers among his flock, who inhabit what is called the Street in his village. There is nothing comparable to the following description, but some of the prose sketches of Mandeville.
Here, in cabal, a disputatious crew
Each evening meet; the sot, the cheat, the shrew;
Riots are nightly heard, — the curse, the cries
Of beaten wife, perverse in her replies;
While shrieking children hold each threat'ning hand,
And sometimes life and sometimes food demand:
Boys in their first stol'n rags, to swear begin,
And girls, who know not sex, are skill'd in gin;
Snarers and Smugglers here their gains divide,
Ensnaring females here their victims hide;
And here is one, the Sybil of the Row,
Who knows all secrets, or affects to know.
Between the road-way and the walls, offence
Invades all eyes and strikes on every sense;
There lye, obscene, at every open door,
Heaps from the hearth and sweepings from the floor.
There hungry dogs from hungry children steal;
There pigs and chickens quarrel for a meal;
There dropsied infants wail without redress,
And all is want and woe and wretchedness.
See on the floor, what frowzy patches rest!
What nauseous fragments on yon fractur'd chest!
What downy-dust beneath yon window-seat!
And round these posts that serve this bed for feet;
This bed where all those tatter'd garments lye,
Worn by each sex, and now perforce thrown by.
See! as we gaze, an infant lifts its head,
Left by neglect and burrow'd in that bed;
The mother-gossip has the love supprest,
An infant's cry once waken'd in her breast, &c. &c.
Here are no wheels for either wool or flax,
But packs of cards, — made up of sundry packs;
There are no books, but ballads on the wall,
Are some abusive, and indecent all;
Pistols are here, unpair'd; with nets and hooks,
Of every kind, for rivers, ponds, and brooks;
An ample flask that nightly rovers fill,
With recent poison from the Dutchman's still;
A box of tools with wires of various size,
Frocks, wigs, and hats, for night or day disguise,
And bludgeons flout to gain or guard a prize.
To every house belongs a space of ground,
Of equal size, once fenc'd with paling round;
That paling now by slothful waste destroy'd,
Dead gorse and stumps of elder fill the void;
Save in the centre-spot whose walls of clay,
Hide sots and striplings at their drink and play;
Within, a board, beneath a til'd retreat,
Allures the bubble and maintains the cheat;
Where heavy ale in spots like varnish shows,
Where chalky tallies yet remain in rows;
Black pipes and broken jugs the feats defile,
The walls and windows, rhymes and reck'nings vile;
Prints of the meanest kind disgrace the door,
And cards in curses torn, lye fragments on the floor.
Here his poor bird, th' inhuman cocker brings,
Arms his hard heel, and clips his golden wings;
With spicy food, th' impatient spirit feeds,
And shouts and curses as the battle bleeds:
Struck through the brain, depriv'd of both his eyes,
The vanquish'd bird must combat till he dies;
Must faintly peck at his victorious foe,
And reel and stagger at each feeble blow;
When fall'n, the savage grasps his dabbled plumes,
His blood-stain'd arms, for other deaths assumes;
And damns the craven-fowl, that lost his stake,
And only bled and perish'd for his sake. p. 40-44.
Mr. Crabbe now opens his chronicle; and the first babe that appears on the list is a natural child of the miller's daughter. This damsel fell in love with a sailor; but her father refused his consent, and no priest would unite them without it. The poor girl yielded to her passion; and her lover went to sea, to seek a portion for his bride.
Then came the days of shame, the grievous night,
The varying look, the wandering appetite;
The joy assum'd, while sorrow dimm'd the eyes,
The forc'd sad smiles that follow'd sudden sighs,
And every art, long us'd, but us'd in vain,
To hide thy progress, Nature, and thy pain.
Day after day were past in grief and pain,
Week after week, nor, came the youth again;
Her boy was born — no lads nor lasses came
To grace the rite or give the child a name;
Nor grave conceited nurse, of office proud,
Bore the young christian, roaring through the crowd;
In a small chamber was my office done,
Where blinks through paper'd panes, the setting sun;
Where noisy sparrows, perch'd on penthouse near,
Chirp tuneless joy, and mock the frequent tear.
Throughout the lanes, she glides at evening's close,
There softly lulls her infant to repose;
Then sits and gazes but with viewless look,
As gilds the moon the rimpling of the brook;
Then sings her vespers, but in voice so low,
She hears their murmurs as the waters flow;
And she too murmurs and begins to find
The solemn wanderings of a wounded mind;
Visions of terror, views of woe succeed,
The mind's impatience, to the body's need. p. 47-49.
We pass the rest of the Baptisms; and proceed to the more interesting chapter of Marriages. The first pair here is an old snug bachelor, who, in the first days of dotage, had married his maidservant. The reverend Mr. Crabbe is very facetious on this match; and not very scrupulously delicate. We can only venture to insert a line or two of his animated address to this rustic Benedict.
Fie, Nathan! fie! to let a sprightly jade
Leer on thy bed, then ask thee how 'twas made,
And lingering walk around at head and feet,
To see thy nightly comforts all complete;
Then waiting seek — nor what she said she sought,
And bid a penny for her master's thought. p. 71.
The following picture, we think, is perfect, in that style of drawing.
Next at our altar flood a luckless pair,
Brought by strong passions and a warrant there;
By long rent cloak, hung loosely, strove the bride,
From ev'ry eye, what all perceiv'd, to hide
While the boy-bridegroom, shuffling in his pace,
Now hid awhile, and then expos'd his face;
As shame alternately with anger strove,
The brain, confus'd with muddy ale, to move;
In hasate and stammering he perform'd his part,
And look'd the rage that rankled in his heart;
(So will each lover inly curse his fate,
Too soon made happy, and made wise too late;)—
I saw his features take a savage gloom,
And deeply threaten for the days to come;
Low spake the last, and lisp'd and minc'd the while;
Look'd on the lad and faintly try'd to smile;
With soft'ned speech and humbled tone she strove
To stir the embers of departed love;
While he a tyrant, frowning walk'd before,
Felt the poor purse, and sought the public door,
She sadly following in submission went,
And saw the final shilling foully spent;
Then to her father's hut the pair withdrew,
And bade to love and comfort long adieu! — p. 74, 75.
The next bridal is that of Phoebe Dawson, the most innocent and and beautiful of all the village maidens. We give the following pretty description of her courtship.
Now, through the lane; no hill, and cross the green,
(Seen but by few and blushing to he seen—
Dejected, thoughtful, anxious, and afraid;)
Led by the lover, walk'd the silent maid:
Slow through the meadows rov'd they, many a mile,
Toy'd by each bank, and trifled at each stile;
Where as he painted every blissful view,
And highly colour'd what he strongIy drew,
The pensive damsel, prone to render fears,
Dimm'd the false prospect with prophetic tears:
Thus pass'd th' allotted hurt, till lingering late,
The lover loiter'd at the master's gate;
There he pronounc'd adieu! and yet would stay,
Till chidden — sooth'd — intreated — forc'd away;
He would of coldness, though indulg'd, complain,
And oft retire and oft return again;
For he would proof of plighted kindness crave,
That she relented first, and then forgave,
And to his grief and penance yielded more
Than his presumption had requir'd before. p. 76-77.
This is the taking side of the picture; at the end of two years, here is the reverse. Nothing can be more touching than the quiet suffering and solitary hysterics of this ill-fated young woman,
Lo! now with red rent cloak and bonnet black,
And torn green gown, loose hanging at her back,
One who an infant in her arm sustains,
And seems in patience, striving with her pains;
Pinch'd are her looks, as one who pines for bread,
Whose cares are growing and whose hopes are fled;
Pale her parch'd lips, her heavy eyes funk low,
And tears unnotic'd from their channels flow;
Serene her manner, till some sudden pain,
Frets the meek soul, and then she's calm again;—
Her broken pitcher to the pool she takes,
And every step with cautious terror makes;
For not alone that infant in her arms,
But nearer cause, maternal fear, alarms;
With water burthen'd, then she picks her way,
Slowly and cautious, in the clinging clay;
Till in mid-green she trusts a place unsound,
And deeply plunges in th' adhesive ground;
From whence her slender foot with pain she takes, &c.
And now her path, but not her peace she gains,
Safe from her task, but shivering with her pains;
Her home she reaches, open leaves the door,
And placing first her infant on the floor.
She bares her bosom to the wind, and sits,
And sobbing struggles with the rising fits;
In vain they come — she feels th' inflating grief,
That shuts the swelling bosom from relief;
That speaks in feeble cries a soul distrest,
Or the fad laugh that cannot be represt;
The neighbour-matron leaves her wheel, and flies
With all the aid her poverty supplies;
Unfee'd, the calls of nature she obeys,
Not led by profit, not allur'd by praise;
And waiting long, till these contentions cease,
She speaks of comfort, and departs in peace. p. 77-78.
The ardent lover, it seems, turned out a brutal husband.
If present, railing, till he saw her pain'd;
If absent, spending what their labours gain'd:
Till that fair form in want and sickness pin'd,
And hope and comfort fled that gentle mind. p. 79.
It may add to the interest which some readers will take in this simple story, to be told, that it was the last piece of poetry that was read to Mr. Fox during his fatal illness; and that he examined and made some remarks on the manuscript of it a few days before his death.
We are obliged to pass over the rest of the Marriages, though some of them are extremely characteristic and beautiful, and to proceed to the Burials. Here we have a great variety of portraits, — the old drunken innkeeper, — the bustling farmer's wife, — the infant, — and next the lady of the manor. The following description of her deserted mansion is striking; and in the good old taste of Pope and Dryden.
—Forsaken stood the hall,
Worms ate the floors, the tap'stry fled the wall;
No fire, the kitchen's cheerless grate display'd;
No cheerful light, the long-clos'd sash convey'd!
The crawling worm that turns a summer fly,
Here spun his shroud and laid him up to die
The winter death: — upon the bed of state,
The bat shrill-shrieking, woo'd his flickering mate:
To empty rooms, the curious came no more,
From empty cellars, turn'd the angry poor,
And surly beggars curs'd the ever-bolted door.
To one small room, the steward found his way,
Where tenants follow'd to complain and pay. p. 104, 105.
The old maid follows next to the shades of mortality. The description of her house, furniture and person, is admirable, and affords a fine specimen of Mr. Crabbe's most minute finishing; but it is too long for extracting. We rather present our readers with a part of the character of Isaac Ashford.
Next to these ladies, but in nought allied,
A noble peasant, Isaac Ashford, died.
Noble he was, contemning all things mean,
His truth unquestion'd, and his soul serene:
Of no man's presence, Isaac felt afraid;
At no man's question, Isaac look'd dismay'd:
Shame knew him not, he dreaded no disgrace; &c.
Were others joyful, he look'd smiling on,
And gave allowance where he needed none;
Yet far was he from stoic pride remov'd;
He felt, with many, and he warmly lov'd:
I mark'd his action, when his infant died,
And an old neighbour for offence was tried;
The still tears, stealing down that furrow'd cheek,
Spoke pity, plainer than the tongue can speak, &c. p. 111, 112.
The rest of the character is drawn with equal spirit; but we can only make room for the author's final commemoration of him.
I feel his absence in the hours of prayer,
And view his seat, and sigh for Isaac there;
I see, no more, those white locks thinly spread,
Round the bald polish of that honour'd head;
No more that awful glance, on playful wight
Compell'd to kneel and tremble at the sight;
To fold his fingers all in dread the while,
Till Mister Ashford soften'd to a smile;
No more that meek, that suppliant look in payer,
Nor that pure faith, that gave it force — are there:—
But he is blest, and I lament no more,
A wise good man contented to be poor. p. 114.
After this there is a fine and very poetical picture of a moody wandering madman; and then a case more ordinary, but not less touching.
Then died lamented, in the strength of life,
A valued mother and a faithful wife;
Call'd not away, when time had loos'd each hold
On the fond heart, and each desire grew cold;
But when, to all that knit us to our kind,
She felt fast-bound, as charity can bind;—
Not when the ills of age, its pain, its care,
The drooping spirit for its fate prepare;
And, each affection failing, leaves the heart
Loos'd from life's charm, and willing to depart;—
But all her ties, the strong invader broke,
In all their strength, by one tremendous stroke!
Sudden and swift the eager pest came on,
And all was terror, till all hope was gone;
Was silent terror, where that hope grew weak,
Look'd on the sick, and was asham'd to speak.— p. 117, 118
The funeral is described in terms as simple and as moving. We can only insert the close.
Curious and sad, upon the fresh dug hill,
The village lads stood melancholy still;
And idle children, wandering to and fro,
As nature guided, took the tone of woe.
Arriv'd at home, how then they gaz'd around,
In every place, where she — no more, was found;—
The seat at table, the was wont to fill,
The fire-side chair, still set, but vacant still;
The garden walks, a labour all her own
The lattic'd bower with trailing shrubs o'ergrown;
The Sunday-pew, the fill'd with all her race,
Each place of hers was now a sacred place. &c. p. 229.
We then bury the village midwife, superseded in her old age by a volatile doctor; then a surly rustic misanthrope; and, last of all, the reverend author's antient sexton, whose chronicle of his various pastors is given rather at too great length. The poem ends with a simple recapitulation.
We think this the most important of the new pieces in the volume; and have extended our account of it so much, that we can afford to say but little of the others. "The Library" and "the Newspaper" are republications. They are written with a good deal of terseness, sarcasm, and beauty; but the subjects are not very interesting, and they will rather be approved, we think, than admired or delighted in. We are not much taken either with "the Birth of Flattery." With many nervous lines and ingenious allusions, it has something of the languor which seems inseparable from an allegory which exceeds the length of an epigram.
"Sir Eustace Grey" is quite unlike any of the preceding compositions. It is written in a sort of lyric measure, and is intended to represent the perturbed fancies of the most terrible insanity settling by degrees into a sort of devotional enthusiasm. The opening stanza, spoken by a visitor in the madhouse, is very striking.
I'll know no more; — the heart is torn
By views of woe, we cannot heal
Long shall I see these things forlorn,
And oft again their griefs shall feel;
As each upon the mind, shall steal;
That wan projector's mystick style,
That lumpish idiot leering by,
That peevish idler's ceaseless wile,
And that poor maiden's half-form'd smile,
While struggling for the full-drawn sigh!
I'll know no more. p. 217.
There is great force, both of language and conception, in the wild narrative Sir Eustace gives of his frenzy; though we are not sure whether there is not something too elaborate, and too much worked up, in the picture. We give only one image, which we think is original. He supposed himself hurried along by two tormenting daemons—
Through lands we fled, o'er seas we flew,
And halted on a boundless plain
Where nothing fed, nor breath'd, nor grew,
But Silence rul'd the still domain.
Upon that boundless plain, below,
The setting sun's last rays were shed,
And gave a mild and sober glow,
Where all were still, asleep or dead;
Vast ruins in the midst were spread,
Pillars and pediments sublime,
Where the grey moss had form'd a bed,
And cloth'd the crumbling spoils of Time.
There was I fix'd, I know not how,
Condemn'd for untold years to stay;
Yet years were not; — one dreadful now,
Endur'd no change of night or day;
The same mild evening's sleeping ray,
Shone softly-solemn and serene,
And all that time, I gaz'd away,
The setting sun's sad rays were seen. p. 226.
"The Hall of Justice," or the story of the Gypsy Convict, is another experiment of Mr. Crabbe's. It is very nervous — very shocking — and very powerfully represented. The woman is accused of stealing, and tells her story in impetuous and lofty language.
My crime! this sick'ning child to feed,
I seiz'd the food, your witness law;
I knew your laws forbade the deed,
But yielded to a stronger law.—
But I have griefs of other kind,
Troubles and sorrows more severe;
Give me to ease my tortur'd mind,
Lend to my woes a patient ear;
And let me — if I may not find
A friend to help — find one to hear.
My mother dead, my father lost,
I wander'd with a vagrant crew
A common care, a common cost,
Their sorrows and their sins I knew;
With them, on want and error forc'd,
Like them, I base and guilty grew.
So through the land, I wandering went,
And little found of grief or joy
But lost my bosom's sweet content,
When first I lov'd the gypsy-boy.
A sturdy youth he was and tall,
His looks would all his soul declare,
His piercing eyes were deep and small,
And strongly curl'd his raven hair.
Yes, Aaron had each manly charm,
All in the May of youthful pride,
He scarcely fear'd his father's arm,
And every other arm defied.
Oft when they grew in anger warm,
(Whom will not love and power divide?)
I rose, their wrathful souls to calm,
Not yet in sinful combat tried. p. 240-242.
The father felon falls in love with the betrothed of his son, whom he despatches on some distant errand. The consummation of his horrid passion is told in these powerful stanzas.
The night was dark, the lanes were deep,
And one by one they took their way
He bade me lay me down and sleep,
I only wept, and wish'd for day.
Accursed be the love he bore,
Accursed was the force he us'd,
So let him of his God implore
For mercy, and be so refus'd! p. 243.
It is painful to follow the story out. The son returns, and privately murders his father, and then marries his widow. The profligate barbarity of the life led by these outcasts, is forcibly expressed by the simple narrative of the lines that follow.
I brought a lovely daughter forth,
His father's child in Aaron's bed
He took her from me in his wrath,
"Where is my child" — "Thy child is dead."
'Twas false. — we wander'd far and wide,
Through town and country, field and fen,
Till Aaron fighting, fell and died,
And I became a wife again. p. 248.
We have not room to give the sequel of this dreadful ballad. It certainly is not pleasing reading; but it is written with very unusual power of language, and shows Mr. Crabbe to have great mastery over the tragic passions of pity and horror. The volume closes with some verses of no great value in praise of Women.
We part with regret from Mr. Crabbe; but we hope to meet with him again. If his muse, to be sure, is prolific only once in twenty-four years, we can scarcely expect to live long enough to pass our judgment on the progeny; but we trust, that a portion of public favour than has hitherto been dealt to him, encourage him to greater efforts; and that he will soon appear again among the worthy supporters of the old poetical establishment, and come in time to surpass the revolutionists in fast firing as well as in weight of metal.