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“ NATURE'S sternest painter, yet the best," wrote Lord Byron of the poet Crabbe. It was a just and generous compliment, deriving additional value from the brilliance of the pen that traced the words.

Well might George Crabbe be a painter of stern and gloomy scenes, for with these he had been familiar from earliest childhood. His first recollections were of a flat and ugly coast, bordered with slimy rock-pools, washed by discoloured waves, and tenanted only by a race of wild, amphibious, weather-beaten men, who, for the most part, added to their lawful calling as fishermen the yet more hazardous occupation of the smuggler. Such was the scenery, and such were the people round Aldborough in Suffolk, where in 1754 he was born. His father, the salt-master or collector of salt duties in that little town, treated his 1754 son George, as he seems to have treated everybody else, with considerable harshness. But the boy had early found a consolation for the passing griefs of childhood. He used to cut out for his private reading the occasional verses of a peri; odical, for which his father subscribed. Over and over again the treasured scraps were conned, until the happy owner began to imitate their simple music.

The life of Crabbe, before settling down into the quietude of a rural parish, presents pleasant and painful scenes. The boy of fourteen, who had already got some grounding in classics and mathematics, was apprenticed to a surgeon at Wickham Brook,





near Bury St. Edmund's. Here he met with such ill-treatment, that it was thought right to remove him to another master, at Woodbridge in his native shire. Secretly, amid all discouragements and



young poet, even when he was rolling pills or grinding nauseous drugs in a mortar, had been cultivating his new-found talent for making verses. In the house of his hard taskmaster he had “ filled a drawer with poetry.” And, while at Woodbridge, he won a prize for a poem on Hope, which was proposed by the proprietor of a certain magazine. The success of this maiden effort sealed the futurė fate of Crabbe. Thenceforward for life he was a poet; and in a short time, after a brave attempt to establish himself in his profession at Aldborough, he was drawn by an irresistible magnetism into the then perilous struggles of literary life in London.

This is the strangest period of his story. An apothecary's shopman and a country clergyman have nothing wonderful about their daily lives. But there is often a romance about the career of a literary adventurer, especially during his earlier struggles, which possesses a remarkable fascination. Even the first step Crabbe took towards getting to London was original and odd. He had no money.

He sat down and wrote a letter, asking the loan of five pounds from Mr. Dudley North, whose brother had once con. tested the town of Aldborough at an election. The money came. A sloop bound for London was in the harbour, and soon the exsurgeon stood in the solitude of those busy streets.

There he went through the old routine of hard work and bitter rejection, in the midst of which so many earnest, hopeful hearts have failed and broken. His poems were refused; a publisher, to whom he had intrusted the issuing of a work on his own account, failed; his money was nearly gone; and want stared him in the face. Just at this crisis he thought of his letter to North and the cordial reply. At once acting on the recollection, he wrote, enclosing poems, to the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, and others. No answer came. He would try the great Edmund Burke. With a beating heart he knocked at the statesman's door one night, handed in a letter, and then went in pitiable agitation to walk to

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and fro on Westminster Bridge, till the lamps went out along the river, and the red dawn began to glimmer in the east. Burke's kindness was prompt and real. Appointing a time for Crabbe to call, he looked over the manuscripts; picked out two, The Library and The Village; good-naturedly pointed out some passages in need of change; and, better than all, took the works to Dodsley's shop and recommended them to that eminent bookseller. Going further still, he brought the poet out to Beaconsfield, where he introduced him to some of the first men of the day. The tide had turned, and thenceforward there was no struggle in the peaceful life of Crabbe.

In 1781 The Library was published. Lord Chancellor Thurlow became his friend, though tardily. At Burke's suggestion the poet qualified himself for entering the Church, and was ordained in the August of 1782. The quondam surgeon went back to Aldborough as curate of the parish, with every prospect of competence and fame. His good friend Burke did not forget the struggler he had saved from want, or worse than want. The statesman's influence having obtained for him the domestic chaplaincy in the household of the Duke of Rutland, he exchanged Aldborough Parsonage for Belvoir Castle. Then appeared in 1783 The Village, the revisal of which was among the last works of Dr. John- 1783 son's toilsome life; and so decided was the success of the poem, that its publication may be regarded as the seal of George Crabbe's fame. Presented by Thurlow with two small livings in Dorsetshire, the successful poet married without delay that gentle Suffolk girl who had waited for him so long.

The quiet current of his days then flowed on without any striking change or remarkable sorrow, except the gentle regrets of moving occasionally from one parish to another, and that one darkest cloud of his life, the loss of his affectionate wife. In 1785 he published The Newspaper; and then his name was not seen in the publishers' lists for two-and-twenty years. The flowers, insects, and rocks of his parish, wherever he might be, engaged much of his studious love. With his sons, whom he taught at home, he read French and


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Italian books, and took long walks through the fields. Such pursuits, combined with the anflagging labour of the pen, filled those hours of the country clergyman that were not given to the duties of his sacred office.

His most successful work, The Parish Register, appeared in 1807; and three years later came The Borough, in which, perhaps, we find his most powerful painting. About a year after the loss of his wife, which befell him in 1813, he was presented by the

Duke of Rutland to the living of Trowbridge in Wilt1814 shire, worth £800 a year. There he wrought at his last

£ great literary task, The Tales of the Hall, which were

published in 1819, and for which, with the remaining copyright of his poems, he received the large sum of £3000. There, too, he died at a ripe old age, on the 3rd of February 1832.

The English poor-their woes, weaknesses, and sins--form the almost unvarying theme of Crabbo's poetry. Himself a poor man's son, he could not help, whenever he visited the hovels or the parish workhouse at Muston or at Trowbridge, recollecting the days when he had played with ragged boys down by the shipping in the little harbour of Aldborough ; or when he had stood by the sick-beds of labourers and boatmen, a poor country surgeon living a more wretched and precarious life than many of his patients. He had been himself within the veil of the poor man's life—he had himself felt many of the sorrows that smite the poor; and thus it was that he could produce, with such marvellous truth and minuteness of detail, those grey photographs of humble village life which extorted Byron's expressive line. The distinguishing feature of lis poetry is the wonderful minuteness of his descriptive passages. One of the most objective of our poets, he described faithfully all that he saw, and little seems to have escaped his searching ken. Upon the sea he dwells with especial love. It was almost the only beautiful object that met his young eyes at Aldborough; and whether he writes of it as the gentle, sunny thing, that taps lazily at the side of a stranded ship, or the fierce and powerful element, that sweeps in white fury over sharp and splintered rocks, some



of his finest lines flow and brighten in its praise. He has been called a “ Pope in worsted stockings ;" which simply means, when we get rid of the faint flavour of the wit, that he wrote in the pentameter couplet of which Pope was so fond, and that he wrote about the poor. Otherwise, there is as slight similarity between the testy little invalid of Twickenham, and the mild, venerable rector of Trowbridge, as between the powdered and brocaded Belinda of the one, whose tress is severed by the daring scissors, and the sweet, rustic, rosy-cheeked Phoebe Dawson of the other, who trips smiling across the village green.


Next to these ladies, but in nought allied,
A noble peasant, Isaac Ashford, died.
Noble he was, contemning all things mean,
His truth unquestioned and his soul serene.
Of no man's presence Isaac felt afraid ;
At no man's question Isaac looked dismayed :
Shame knew him not, he dreaded no disgrace;
Truth, simple truth, was written in his face.
Yet while the serious thought his soul approved,
Cheerful he seemed, and gentleness he loved;
To bliss domestic he his heart resigned,
And with the firmest, had the fondest mind.
Were others joyful, he looked smiling on,
And gave allowance where he needed none;
Good he refused with future ill to buy,
Nor knew a joy that caused reflection's sigh.
A friend to virtue, his unclouded breast
No envy stung, no jealousy distressed-
Bane of the poor! it wounds their weaker mind
To miss one favour which their neighbours find.
Yet far was he from stoic pride removed ;
He felt humanely, and he warmly loved:
I marked his action when his infant died,
And his old neighbour for offence was tried ;
The still tears, stealing down that furrowed cheek,
Spoke pity plainer than the tongue can speak.
If pride was his, 'twas not their vulgar pride,
Who, in their base contempt, the great deride;

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