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English Men of Letters: Crabbe   By: (1837-1904)

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ENGLISH MEN OF LETTERS

CRABBE

ENGLISH MEN OF LETTERS

CRABBE

BY

ALFRED AINGER

NINETEEN HUNDRED AND THREE

PREFATORY NOTE

The chief, and almost sole, source of information concerning Crabbe is the Memoir by his son prefixed to the collected edition of his poems in 1834. Comparatively few letters of Crabbe's have been preserved, but a small and interesting series will be found in the "Leadbeater Papers" (1862), consisting of letters addressed to Mary Leadbeater, the daughter of Burke's friend, Richard Shackleton.

I am indebted to Mr. John Murray for kindly lending me many manuscript sermons and letters of Crabbe's and a set of commonplace books in which the poet had entered fragments of cancelled poems, botanical memoranda, and other miscellaneous matter.

Of especial service to me has been a copy of Crabbe's Memoir by his son with abundant annotations by Edward FitzGerald, whose long intimacy with Crabbe's son and grandson had enabled him to illustrate the text with many anecdotes and comments of interest chiefly derived from those relatives. This volume has been most kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. W. Aldis Wright, FitzGerald's literary executor.

Finally, I have once again to thank my old friend the Master of Peterhouse for his careful reading of my proof sheets.

A.A.

July 1903

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I EARLY LIFE IN ALDEBURGH

CHAPTER II POVERTY IN LONDON

CHAPTER III FRIENDSHIP WITH BURKE

CHAPTER IV LIFE AT BELVOIR CASTLE

CHAPTER V IN SUFFOLK AGAIN

CHAPTER VI "THE PARISH REGISTER"

CHAPTER VII "THE BOROUGH"

CHAPTER VIII "TALES"

CHAPTER IX VISITING IN LONDON

CHAPTER X "TALES OF THE HALL"

CHAPTER XI LAST YEARS AT TROWBRIDGE

INDEX

CRABBE

CHAPTER I

EARLY LIFE IN ALDEBURGH

(1754 1780)

Two eminent English poets who must be reckoned moderns though each produced characteristic verse before the end of the eighteenth century, George Crabbe and William Wordsworth, have shared the common fate of those writers who, possessing a very moderate power of self criticism, are apparently unable to discriminate between their good work and their bad. Both have suffered, and still suffer, in public estimation from this cause. The average reader of poetry does not care to have to search and select for himself, and is prone summarily to dismiss a writer (especially a poet) on the evidence of his inferior productions. Wordsworth, by far the greater of the two poets, has survived the effects of his first offence, and has grown in popularity and influence for half a century past. Crabbe, for many other reasons that I shall have to trace, has declined in public favour during a yet longer period, and the combined bulk and inequality of his poetry have permanently injured him, even as they injured his younger contemporary.

Widely as these two poets differed in subjects and methods, they achieved kindred results and played an equally important part in the revival of the human and emotional virtues of poetry after their long eclipse under the shadow of Pope and his school. Each was primarily made a poet through compassion for what "man had made of man," and through a concurrent and sympathetic influence of the scenery among which he was brought up. Crabbe was by sixteen years Wordsworth's senior, and owed nothing to his inspiration. In the form, and at times in the technique of his verse, his controlling master was Pope. For its subjects he was as clearly indebted to Goldsmith and Gray. But for The Deserted Village of the one, and The Elegy of the other, it is conceivable that Crabbe, though he might have survived as one of the "mob of gentlemen" who imitated Pope "with ease," would never have learned where his true strength lay, and thus have lived as one of the first and profoundest students of The Annals of the Poor . For The Village , one of the earliest and not least valuable of his poems, was written (in part, at least) as early as 1781, while Wordsworth was yet a child, and before Cowper had published a volume... Continue reading book >>




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