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THE

QUARTERLY REVIEW.

·NOVEMBER, 1810.

ART. I. The Borough: a Poem.
By the Rev. G. Crabbe, LL. B.
Hatchard. 1810.

In Twenty-four Letters. 8vo. pp. 384. London,

THE history of Mr. Crabbe as an author has been somewhat singular. He first appeared in that character in the year 1783, and was received in such a manner as might have warranted the hope that his second appearance would not be long delayed. But, too indolent or too unambitious, Mr. Crabbe sunk back into privacy; and five-and-twenty years elapsed before he renewed his claims on the public notice. His increased success on this second occasion does not strike us as matter of surprise. We had become sick of the luscious monotony of Muses who seemed to have been fed only on flowers; and were therefore prepared to receive with indulgence even the rude efforts of a more firm and manly genius. At the same time it must be confessed, that the candidate was in no want of illustrious friends to bring him down (like the deductores of old) to the place of canvas, and to secure, by their influence, the favourable suffrages of his countrymen. Criticism itself could not refuse a smile to the verse which had early obtained the praise of Burke and Johnson, and more recently cheered the dying bed of Fox.

The first glow of admiration, however, is now gone; and sufficient time has since passed to allow of our ascertaining, pretty ac curately, the final judgment of the public respecting the merits of Mr. Crabbe. It is, if we are not mistaken, that he has greatly misapplied great powers; and that, although an able, he is not a pleasing poet. In this judgment we entirely acquiesce.

The peculiarity of this author is, that he wishes to discard every thing like illusion from poetry. He is the poet of reality, and of reality in low life. His opinions on this subject were announced in the opening of his first poem, "The Village;' and will be best explained by extracting from that work some lines which contain a general enunciation of his system.

'The village life, and ev'ry care that reigns O'er youthful peasants and declining swains; VOL. IV. NO. VIII.

37

What labour yields, and what, that labour past,
Age in its hour of languor finds at last;
What form the real picture of the poor,
Demand a song-the Muse can give no more.

On Mincio's banks, in Cæsar's bounteous reign,
If Tityrus found the golden age again,
Must sleepy bards the flatt'ring dreams prolong?
Mechanic echoes of the Mantuan song?
From Truth and Nature shall we widely stray
Where Virgil, not where Fancy, leads the way?
Yes, thus the Muses sing of happy swains,
Because the Muses never knew their pains.-

Then shall I dare these real ills to hide
In tinsel trappings of poetic pride?

By such examples taught, I paint the cot
As Truth will paint it, and as bards will not.-

From these extracts, as well as from the constant tenor of his writings, it is clear that Mr. Crabbe condemns the common representations of rural life and manners as fictitious; that he is determined in his own sketches of them to confine himself, with more than ordinary rigour, to truth and nature ;-to draw only 'the real picture of the poor,' which, be it remembered, must necessarily, according to his opinion, be a picture of sorrow and depravity. Now all this tends greatly to circumscribe, if not completely to destroy, the operation of illusion in poetry; and proceeds on what we conceive to be an entire misconception of the principles on which the pleasure of poetic reading depends. Notwithstanding the saving clause in favour of the privileges of Fancy, which is inserted in one of the preceding extracts, the doctrines of Mr. Crabbe appear to us essentially hostile to the highest exercise of the imagination, and we cannot therefore help regarding them with considerable doubt and jealousy.

To talk of binding down poetry to dry representations of the world as it is, seems idle; because it is precisely in order to escape from the world as it is, that we fly to poetry. We turn to it, not that we may see and feel what we see and feel in our daily experience, but that we may be refreshed by other emotions and fairer prospects that we may take shelter from the realities of life in the paradise of fancy. To spread out a theatre on which this separate and intellectual kind of existence might be enjoyed, has in all ages been the great business of the speculative powers of the species.

For this end new worlds have been framed, or the old embellished; imaginary joys and sorrows have been excited; the elements have been peopled with ideal beings. To this moral necessity, the divinities of ancient mythology owed their popularity, if not their birth; and when that visionary creation was dissolved, the same powerful instinct supplied the void with the fays and genii and enchantments of modern romance.

Poetry then, if it would answer the end of its being, must flatter the imagination. It must win the mind to the exercise of its contemplative faculties by striking out pictures on which it may dwell with complacency and delight. It does not follow that these pictures should be exclusively of a gay and smiling nature. The mind is notoriously so constituted as to enjoy, within certain limits, the fictitious representations of sad or terrible things.

But why, it is said, does poetry realize that which has no existence in nature? It is, at least, some answer to the question to observe, that in this respect, poetry only does for us more perfectly what, without its assistance, we every day do for ourselves. It is to illusions, whether excited by the art of the poet, or by the secret magic of association, that life owes one of its first charms; and in both cases they give rise to feelings the same in their nature and in their practical effect. The pleasures of memory, for example, are great in exact proportion to the ardour with which the mind embraces this sort of self-deception. When we remember a past event in a very lively manner, what is it but to realize that which has no existence ;-and this, not only according to the popular mode of stating the fact, but in strict metaphysical truth. Such, too, is, in a striking degree, the case, when a portrait or some other memorial vividly affects us with the imagined presence of a deceased friend; or when we are presented with the prospect of scenes resembling those to which we are attached by interesting recollections, especially if they meet us in a foreign climate. It is the happy observation of this familiar principle which constitutes the beauty of that fine passage in Virgil, where Eneas describes himself as saluting, in a remote country, the gates and towers of a second Troy, and as restored by a view of the copy to the presence of the original. 'Procedo, et parvam Trojam, simulataque magnis Pergama, et arentem Xanthi cognomine rivum Agnosco, Scææque amplector limina porta.'

Some of the emigrants from the north of Scotland to America have, it is said, chosen for their residence situations similar to those which they left; and have even given to the principal features of their new country the names by which the corresponding objects of the old were distinguished. This is only one instance of that desire to encourage illusions which so universally prevails, and which continually leads us to surround ourselves, if the expression

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