1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Crabbe

Robert Southey to J. Neville White, 1808; Selections from the Letters, ed. Warter (1856) 2:90-91.



With Crabbe's poems I have been acquainted for about twenty years, having read them when a schoolboy on their first publication, and, by the help of Elegant Extracts, remembered from that time what was best worth remembering. You rightly compare him to Goldsmith. He is an imitator, or rather an antithesizer, of Goldsmith, if such a word may be coined for the occasion. His merit is precisely the same as Goldsmith's, — that of describing actual things clearly and strikingly; but there is a wide difference between the colouring of the two poets. Goldsmith threw a sunshine over all his pictures, like that of one of our water-colour artists when he paints for ladies, — a light and a beauty not to be found in Nature, though not more brilliant or beautiful than Nature really affords. Crabbe's have a gloom, which is also not in Nature, — not the shade of a heavy day, of mist, or of clouds, but the dark and overcharged shadows of one who paints by lamp-light, — whose very lights have a gloominess. In part this is explained by his history. He had formed an attachment in early life to a young woman who, like himself, was absolutely without fortune; he wrote his poems to obtain patronage and preferment. In those days there was not much good poetry, and hardly any negligent criticism. He pushed (as the world says) for patronage with these poems, and succeeded; got preferment sufficient, and married. It was not long before his wife became deranged, and when all this was told me by one who knew him well, five years ago, he was still almost confined to his own house, anxiously waiting upon this wife in her long and hopeless malady. A sad history! No wonder that he gives so melancholy a picture of human life.