1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Crabbe

Anonymous, in Review of Crabbe, Poems; Monthly Anthology [Boston] 6 (January 1809) 57-58.



The false representations of real life, which the author of these poems has endeavoured to overthrow, are, it must be allowed, apparently among the most harmless. There have always been those, that pleased themselves with the descriptions of Arcadias, and the amours of Phillises and Strephons; in whom it argues an admirable wakefulness and vivacity that they were able to endure the influence of such powerful opiates. Now and then such a man as Florian or Gesner undertakes to revive the thing at the present day; and by throwing it into a new light, and mingling with it a large share of known facts and interesting circumstances, gives it some interest; but of late years, generally speaking, more especially among us of English blood, who were always an up and down people, not given to loquaciousness, or fond of frippery, the pastoral writing has been altogether on the wane. It is possible, that, as commerce is at present very unpopular, this country may be the theatre where Tityrus is destined to uplift his drooping head. It has long been by implication, and perhaps may in time be directly a plan of our publick policy, to people our interiour woods and mountains with shepherds and shepherdesses, and they will probably call for a new edition of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, and the Gentle Shepherd. The present names of our rivers and mountains will be a great obstacle to the application of these ideas to our native scenes. The aborigines of this country were a very unpastoral people; they made their dear Dulcineas plant maize and grind it for them; and they did not value it a beaver's tongue whether the name they gave was a dactyle, or a spondee, or neither. Horace found one name so unwieldy that he could not manage it; and a rural poet would here meet with Connecticuts and Quinnabaugs at every turn, not to mention now and then a Chargoggagogmanchoggagog. To return from this short digression, mistaken pictures of rural life are originally harmless; but they connect themselves in the issue with many other kinds of deception. Besides, the infection is spread perhaps farther than we are aware. We observe and ridicule the extreme absurdities of the picture; but associated as they are with the classick authors of youth, we do not perhaps all know, till we reflect, how strongly the general notions of rural quiet and felicity are fixed in our minds.

Nothing can be better to remove any favourable bias for these sylvan scenes, than Mr. Crabbe's representations. All the principal poems in this collection exhibit pictures of village manners, of village loves and enjoyments, that certainly, applied to the country, surpass the real mimicry of natural low life. Hence their tenor is cheerless and mournful. Rejecting all petty ornaments, and even disregarding in some measure, the sing song mellifluous chime that is the boast of the meanest poetaster, the author aims at strong thought and nervous expression. These are beauties that will last beyond the passing fashion, or even the changing dialect.