“See how the world its veterans
A youth of frolics, an old age of cards.”
For here the expression is faultless, and Pope has educed an eternally pathetic truth, of universal application.
Even had the gentle remonstrances of the two reviewers never been expressed, it would seem as if Crabbe had already arrived at somewhat similar conclusions on his own account. At the time the reviews appeared, the whole of the twenty-one Tales to be published in August 1812 were already written. Crabbe had perceived that if he was to retain the admiring public he had won, he must break fresh ground. Aldeburgh was played out. It had provided abundant material and been an excellent training-ground for Crabbe’s powers. But he had discovered that there were other fields worth cultivating besides that of the hard lots of the very poor. He had associated in his later years with a class above these—not indeed with the “upper ten,” save when he dined at Belvoir Castle, but with classes lying between these two extremes. He had come to feel more and more the fascination of analysing human character and motives among his equals. He had a singularly retentive memory, and the habit of noting and brooding over incidents—specially of “life’s little ironies”—wherever he encountered them. He does not seem to have possessed much originating power. When, a few years later, his friend Mrs. Leadbeater inquired of him whether the characters in his various poems were drawn from life, he replied:—“Yes, I will tell you readily about my ventures, whom I endeavour to paint as nearly as I could, and dare—for in some cases I dared not.... Thus far you are correct: there is not one of whom I had not in my mind the original, but I was obliged in most cases to take them from their real situations, and in one or two instances even to change their sex, and in many, the circumstances.... Indeed I do not know that I could paint merely from my own fancy, and there is no cause why I should. Is there not diversity enough in society?”
Crabbe’s new volume—“Tales. By the Rev. George Crabbe, LL.B.”—was published by Mr. Hatchard of Piccadilly in the summer of 1812. It received a warm welcome from the poet’s admirers, and was reviewed, most appreciatively, by Jeffrey in the Edinburgh for November. The Tales were twenty-one in number, and to each was prefixed a series, often four or five, of quotations from Shakespeare, illustrating the incidents in the Tales, or the character there depicted. Crabbe’s knowledge of Shakespeare must have been in those days, when concordances were not, very remarkable, for he quotes by no means always from the best known plays, and he was not a frequenter of the theatre. Crabbe had of late studied human nature in books as well as in life.
As already remarked, the Tales are often built upon events in his own family, or else occurring within their knowledge. The second in order of publication, The Parting Hour, arose out of an incident in the life of the poet’s own brother, which is thus related in the notes to the edition of 1834: