[Footnote 5: A cant term for smuggled spirits.]
The immediate success of The Parish Register in 1807 encouraged Crabbe to proceed at once with a far longer poem, which had been some years in hand. The Borough was begun at Rendham in Suffolk in 1801, continued at Muston after the return thither in 1805, and finally completed during a long visit to Aldeburgh in the autumn of 1809. That the Poem should have been “in the making” during at least eight years is quite what might be inferred from the finished work. It proved, on appearance, to be of portentous length—at least ten thousand lines. Its versification included every degree of finish of which Crabbe was capable, from his very best to his very worst. Parts of it were evidently written when the theme stirred and moved the writer: others, again, when he was merely bent on reproducing scenes that lived in his singularly retentive memory, with needless minuteness of detail, and in any kind of couplet that might pass muster in respect of scansion and rhyme. In the preface to the poem, on its appearance in 1810, Crabbe displays an uneasy consciousness that his poem was open to objection in this respect. In his previous ventures he had had Edmund Burke, Johnson, and Fox, besides his friend Turner at Yarmouth, to restrain or to revise. On the present occasion, the three first-named friends had passed away, and Crabbe took his MS. with him to Yarmouth, on the occasion of his visit to the Eastern Counties, for Mr. Richard Turner’s opinion. The scholarly rector of Great Yarmouth may well have shrunk from advising on a poem of ten thousand lines in which, as the result was to show, the pruning-knife and other trenchant remedies would have seemed to him urgently needed. As it proved, Mr. Turner’s opinion was on the whole “highly favourable; but he intimated that there were portions of the new work which might be liable to rough treatment from the critics.”
The Borough is an extension—a very elaborate extension—of the topics already treated in The Village and The Parish Register. The place indicated is undisguisedly Aldeburgh; but as Crabbe had now chosen a far larger canvas for his picture, he ventured to enlarge the scope of his observation, and while retaining the scenery and general character of the little seaport of his youth, to introduce any incidents of town life and experiences of human character that he had met with subsequently. The Borough is Aldeburgh extended and magnified. Besides church officials it exhibits every shade of nonconformist creed and practice, notably those of which the writer was now having unpleasant experience at Muston. It has, of course, like its prototype, a mayor and corporation, and frequent parliamentary elections.