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And search for crimson weeds, which spreading flow,
Or lie like pictures on the sand below;
With all those bright red pebbles, that the sun
Through the small waves so softly shines upon;
And those live lucid jellies which the eye
Delights to trace as they swim glitt'ring by :
Pearl-shells and rubied star-fish they admire,
And will arrange above the parlour fire —
Tokens of bliss!”– p. 323 — 326. If these extracts do not make the reader feel how deep and peculiar an interest may be excited by humble subjects, we should almost despair of bringing him over to our opinion, even by Mr. Crabbe's inimitable description and pathetic pleading for the parish poor. The subject is one of those, which to many will appear repulsive, and, to some fastidious natures, perhaps, disgusting. Yet, if the most admirable painting of external objects - the most minute and thorough knowledge of human character — and that warm glow of active and rational benevolence which lends a guiding light to observation, and an enchanting colour to eloquence, can entitle a poet to praise, as they do entitle him to more substantial rewards, we are persuaded that the following passage will not be speedily forgotten.
Your plan I love not :— with a number you
Have plac'd your poor, your pitiable few;
There, in one house, for all their lives to be,
The pauper-palace which they hate to see !
That giant building, that high bounding wall,
Those bare-worn walks, that lofty thund'ring hall !
That large loud clock, which tolls each dreaded hour,
Those gates and locks, and all those signs of power :
It is a prison, with a milder name,
Which few inhabit without dread or shame.".
Alas! their sorrows in their bosoms dwell,
They've much to suffer, but have nought to tell :
They have no evil in the place to state,
And dare not say, it is the house they hate :
They own there's granted all such place can give,
But live repining, - for 'tis there they live!
“Grandsires are there, who now no more must see,
No more must nurse upon the trembling knee,
The lost lov'd daughter's infant progeny!
Like death's dread mansion, this allows not place
For joyful meetings of a kindred race.
“ Is not the matron there, to whom the son
Was wont at each declining day to run;
He (when his toil was over) gave delight,
By lifting up the latch, and one. Good night ?"
Yes, she is here; but nightly to her door
The son, still lab'ring, can return no more.
“ Widows are here, who in their huts were left,
Of husbands, children, plenty, ease, bereft ;
Yet all that grief within the humble shed
Was soften'd, softend in the humble bed :
But here, in all its force, remains the grief,
And not one soft'ning object for relief.
• Who can, when here, the social neighbour meet ?
Who learn the story current in the street?
Who to the long-known intimate impart
Facts they have learn'd, or feelings of the heart ?.
They talk, indeed; but who can choose a friend,
Or seek companions, at their journey's end ?".
What, if no grievous fears their lives annoy,
Is it not worse, no prospects to enjoy ?
'Tis cheerless living in such bounded view,
With nothing dreadful, but with nothing new;
Nothing to bring them joy, to make them weep-
The day itself is, like the night, asleep;
Or on the sameness, if a break be made,
'Tis by some pauper to his grave convey'd ;
By smuggled news from neighb'ring village told,
News never true, or truth a twelvemonth old !
By some new inmate doom'd with them to dwell,
Or justice come to see that all goes well ;
Or change of room, or hour of leave to crawl
On the black footway winding with the wall,
'Till the stern bell forbids, or master's sterner call.
“ Here the good pauper, losing all the praise
By worthy deeds acquir'd in better days,
Breathes a few months; then, to his chamber led,
Expires - while strangers prattle round his bed."-
p. 241–241. These we take to be specimens of Mr. Crabbe's best style; — but he has great variety ; — and some readers may be better pleased with his satirical vein — which is both copious and original. The Vicar is an admirable sketch of what must be very difficult to draw ; - a good, easy man, with no character at all. His little, humble vanity ; — his constant care to offend no one; — his mawkish and feeble gallantry — indolent good nature, and love of gossiping and trifling are all very exactly, and very pleasingly delineated.
To the character of Blaney, we have already objected, as offensive, from its extreme and impotent depravity. The first part of his history, however, is sketched with a masterly hand; and affords a good specimen of that sententious and antithetical manner by which Mr. Crabbe sometimes reminds us of the style and versification of Pope.
Blaney, a wealthy heir at twenty-one,
At twenty-five was ruin'd and undone :
These years with grievous crimes we need not load,
He found his ruin in the common road ;
Gam'd without skill, without inquiry bought,
Lent without love, and borrow'd without thought.
But, gay and handsome, he had soon the dower
Of a kind wealthy widow in his power;
Then he aspir'd to loftier flights of vice!
To singing harlots of enormous price:
And took a jockey in his gig to buy
A horse, so valued, that a duke was shy :
To gain the plaudits of the knowing few,
Gamblers and grooms, what would not Blaney do ?”
“ Cruel he was not. — If he left his wife,
He left her to her own pursuits in life ;
Deaf to reports, to all expenses blind,
Profuse, not just — and careless but not kind."—p. 193, 194. Clelia is another worthless character, drawn with infinite spirit, and a thorough knowledge of human nature. She began life as a sprightly, talking, flirting girl, who passed for a wit and a beauty in the half-bred circles of the borough ; and who, in laying herself out to entrap a youth of better condition, unfortunately fell a victim to his superior art, and forfeited her place in society. She then became the smart mistress of a dashing attorney then tried to teach a school - lived as the favourite of an innkeeper —let lodgings — wrote novels -- set up a toy-shop — and, finally, was admitted into the almshouse. There is nothing very interesting perhaps in such a story; but the details of it show the wonderful accuracy of the author's observation of character; and give it, and many of his other pieces, a value of the same kind that some pictures are thought to derive from the truth and minuteness of the anatomy which they display. There is something original, too, and well
conceived, in the tenacity with which he represents this frivolous person, as adhering to her paltry characteristics, under every change of circumstances. The concluding view is as follows.
“ Now friendless, sick, and old, and wanting bread,
The first-born tears of fallen pride were shed -
True, bitter tears; and yet that wounded pride,
Among the poor, for poor distinctions sigh'd !
Though now her tales were to her audience fit;
Though loud her tones, and vulgar grown her wit;
Though now her dress -(but let me not explain
The piteous patchwork of the needy vain,
The flirtish form to coarse materials lent,
And one poor robe through fifty fashions sent);
Though all within was sad, without was mean —
Still 'twas her wish, her comfort to be seen:
She would to plays on lowest terms resort,
Where once her box was to the beaux a court;
And, strange delight! to that same house, where she
Join'd in the dance, all gaiety and glee,
Now with the menials crowding to the wall,
She'd see, not share, the pleasures of the ball,
And with degraded vanity unfold,
How she too triumph'd in the years of old.- p. 209, 210. The graphic powers of Mr. Crabbe, indeed, are too frequently wasted on unworthy subjects. There is not, perhaps, in all English poetry a more complete and highly finished piece of painting, than the following description of a vast old boarded room or warehouse, which was let out, it seems, in the borough, as a kind of undivided lodging, for beggars and vagabonds of every description. No Dutch painter ever presented an interior more distinctly to the eye; or ever gave half such a group to the imagination.
“ That window view! — oil'd paper and old glass
Stain the strong rays, which, though impeded, pass,
And give a dusty warmth to that huge room,
The conquer'd sunshine's melancholy gloom;
When all those western rays, without so bright,
Within become a ghastly glimm'ring light,
As pale and faint upon the floor they fall,
Or feebly gleam on the opposing wall :
That floor, once oak, now piec'd with fir unplan'd,
Or, where not piecd, in places bor'd and stain'd;
That wall once whiten'd, now an odious sight,
Stain'd with all hues, except its ancient white.
• Where'er the floor allows an even space,
Chalking and marks of various games have place;
Boys, without foresight, pleas'd in halters swing!
On a fix'd hook men cast a flying ring;
While gin and snuff their female neighbours share,
And the black beverage in the fractur'd ware.
“On swinging shelf are things incongruous stor'd --
Scraps of their food - the cards and cribbage board -
With pipes and pouches; while on peg below,
Hang a lost member's fiddle and its bow:
That still reminds them how he'd dance and play,
Ere sent untimely to the Convict's Bay!
· Here by a curtain, by a blanket there,
Are various beds conceal'd, but none with care ;
Where some by day and some by night, as best
Suit their employments, seek uncertain rest;
The drowsy children at their pleasure creep
To the known crib, and there securely sleep.
" Each end contains a grate, and these beside
Are hung utensils for their boil'd and fry'd-
All us'd at any hour, by night, by day,
As suit the
person, or the prey.
“Above the fire, the mantel-shelf contains
Of china-ware some poor unmatch'd remains ;
There many a tea-cup's gaudy fragment stands,
All plac'd by Vanity's unwearied hands;
For here she lives, e'en here she looks about,
To find some small consoling objects out.
* High hung at either end, and next the wall, Two ancient mirrors show the forms of all.”. p. 249–251. The following picture of a calm sea fog is by the same powerful hand:
"When all you see through densest fog is seen;
When you can hear the fishers near at hand
Distinctly speak, yet see not where they stand;
Or sometimes them and not their boats discern,
Or half-conceal'd some figure at the stern;
Boys who, on shore, to sea the pebble cast,
Will hear it strike against the viewless mast;
While the stern boatman growls his fierce disdain,
At whom he knows not, whom he threats in vain.
'Tis pleasant then to view the nets float past,
Net after net till you have seen the last;
And as you wait till all beyond you slip,
A boat comes gliding from an anchor'd ship,
Breaking the silence with the dipping oar,
And their own tones, as labouring for the shore ;