LAST YEARS AT TROWBRIDGE
The last thirteen years of Crabbe’s life were spent at Trowbridge, varied by occasional absences among hiss friends at Bath, and in the neighbourhood, and by annual visits of greater length to the family of Samuel Hoare at Hampstead. Meantime his son John was resident with him at Trowbridge, and the parish and parishioners were not neglected. From Mrs. Hoare’s house on Hampstead Heath it was not difficult to visit his literary friends in London; and Wordsworth, Southey, and others, occasionally stayed with the family. But as early as 1820, Crabbe became subject to frequent severe attacks of neuralgia (then called tic douloureux), and this malady, together with the gradual approach of old age, made him less and less able to face the fatigue of London hospitalities.
Notwithstanding his failing health, and not infrequent absence from his parish—for he occasionally visited the Isle of Wight, Hastings, and other watering-places with his Hampstead friends—Crabbe was living down at Trowbridge much of the unpopularity with which he had started. The people were beginning to discover what sterling qualities of heart existed side by side with defects of tact and temper, and the lack of sympathy with certain sides of evangelical teaching. His son tells us, and may be trusted, that his father’s personal piety deepened in his declining years, an influence which could not be ineffectual. Children, moreover, were growing up in the family, and proved a new source of interest and happiness. Pucklechurch. was not far away, and his son George’s eldest girl, Caroline, as she approached her fourth birthday, began to receive from him the tenderest of letters.
The most important incident in Crabbe’s life during this period was his visit to Walter Scott in Edinburgh in the early autumn of 1822. In the spring of that year, Crabbe had for the first time met Scott in London, and Scott had obtained from him a promise that he would visit him in Scotland in the autumn. It so fell out that George the Fourth, who had been crowned in the previous year, and was paying a series of Coronation progresses through his dominions, had arranged to visit Edinburgh in the August of this year. Whether Crabbe deliberately chose the same period for his own visit, or stumbled on it accidentally, and Scott did not care to disappoint his proposed guest, is not made quite clear by Crabbe’s biographer. Scott had to move with all his family to his house in Edinburgh for the great occasion, and he would no doubt have much preferred to receive Crabbe at Abbotsford. Moreover, it fell to Scott, as the most distinguished man of letters and archaeologist in Edinburgh, to organise all the ceremonies and the festivities necessary for the King’s reception. In Lockhart’s phrase, Scott stage-managed the whole business. And it was on Scott’s return from receiving the King on board the Royal yacht on the 14th of August that he found awaiting him in Castle Street one who must have been an inconvenient guest. The incidents of this first meeting are so charmingly related by Lockhart that I cannot resist repeating them in his words, well known though they may be:—