LIFE AT BELVOIR CASTLE AND AT MUSTON
“The sudden popularity of The Village” writes Crabbe’s son and biographer, “must have produced, after the numberless slights and disappointments already mentioned, and even after the tolerable success of The Library, about as strong a revulsion in my father’s mind as a ducal chaplaincy in his circumstances; but there was no change in his temper or manners. The successful author continued as modest as the rejected candidate for publication had been patient and long-suffering.” The biographer might have remarked as no less strange that the success of The Village failed, for the moment at least, to convince Crabbe where his true strength lay. When he again published a poem, two years later, he reverted to the old Popian topics and methods in a by no means successful didactic satire on newspapers. Meantime the occasional visits of the Duke of Rutland and his family to London brought the chaplain again in touch with the Burkes and the friends he had first made through them, notably with Sir Joshua Reynolds. He was also able to visit the theatre occasionally, and fell under the spell, not only of Mrs. Siddons, but of Mrs. Jordan (in the character of Sir Harry Wildair). It was now decided that as a nobleman’s chaplain it would be well for him to have a university degree, and to this end his name was entered on the boards of Trinity College, Cambridge, through the good offices of Bishop Watson of Llandaff, with a view to his obtaining a degree without residence. This was in 1783, but almost immediately afterwards he received an LL.B. degree from the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was obtained for Crabbe in order that he might hold two small livings in Dorsetshire, Frome St. Quintin and Evershot, to which he had just been presented by Thurlow. It was on this occasion that the Chancellor made his memorable comparison of Crabbe to Parson Adams, no doubt pointing to a certain rusticity, and possibly provincial accent, from which Crabbe seems never to have been wholly free. This promotion seems to have interfered very little with Crabbe’s residence at Belvoir or in London. A curate was doubtless placed in one or other of the parsonage-houses in Dorsetshire at such modest stipend as was then usual—often not more than thirty pounds a year—and the rector would content himself with a periodical flying visit to receive tithe, or inquire into any parish grievances that may have reached his ear. As incidents of this kind will be not infrequent during the twenty years that follow in Crabbe’s clerical career, it may be well to intimate at once that no peculiar blame attaches to him in the matter. He but “partook of the frailty of his times.” During these latter years of the eighteenth century, as for long before and after, pluralism in the Church was rather the rule than the exception, and in consequence non-residence was recognised as inevitable, and hardly matter for comment. The two Dorsetshire livings were of small value, and as Crabbe was now looking forward to his marriage with the faithful Miss Elmy, he could not have afforded to reside. He may not, however, have thought it politic to decline the first preferment offered by so important a dispenser of patronage as the Lord Chancellor.