English Men of Letters: Crabbe eBook

Alfred Ainger
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 219 pages of information about English Men of Letters.

When Burke selected this poem to lay before Dodsley, he had already read portions of The Village, and it seems strange that he should have given The Library precedence, for the other was in every respect the more remarkable.  But Burke, a conservative in this as in other matters, probably thought that a new poet desiring to be heard would be wiser in not at once quitting the old paths.  The readers of poetry still had a taste for didactic epigram varied by a certain amount of florid rhetoric.  And there was little beyond this in Crabbe’s moralisings on the respective functions of theology, history, poetry, and the rest, as represented on the shelves of a library, and on the blessings of literature to the heart when wearied with business and the cares of life.  Crabbe’s verses on such topics are by no means ineffective.  He had caught perfectly the trick of the school so soon to pass away.  He is as fluent and copious—­as skilful in spreading a truism over a dozen well-sounding lines—­as any of his predecessors.  There is little new in the way of ideas.  Crabbe had as yet no wide insight into books and authors, and he was forced to deal largely in generalities.  But he showed that he had already some idea of style; and if, when he had so little to say, he could say it with so much semblance of power, it was certain that when he had observed and thought for himself he would go further and make a deeper mark.  The heroic couplet controlled him to the end of his life, and there is no doubt that it was not merely timidity that made him confine himself to the old beaten track.  Crabbe’s thoughts ran very much in antithesis, and the couplet suited this tendency.  But it had its serious limitations.  Southey’s touching stanzas—­

  “My days among the dead are passed,”

though the ideas embodied are no more novel than Crabbe’s, are worth scores of such lines as these—­

  “With awe, around these silent walks I tread;
  These are the lasting mansions of the dead: 
  ‘The dead!’ methinks a thousand tongues reply;
  ’These are the tombs of such as cannot die! 
  Crowned with eternal fame, they sit sublime,
  And laugh at all the little strife of Time’”




Thus far I have followed the guidance of Crabbe’s son and biographer, but there is much that is confused and incomplete in his narrative.  The story of Crabbe’s life, as told by the son, leaves us in much doubt as to the order of events in 1780-1781.  The memorable letter to Burke was, as we have seen, without a date.  The omission is not strange, for the letter was written by Crabbe in great anguish of mind, and was left by his own hand at Burke’s door.  The son, though he evidently obtained from his father most of the information he was afterwards to use, never extracted this date from him.  He

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English Men of Letters: Crabbe from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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