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periods. And one reason appears to be that though such persons, from whom we might at first expect a restoration of the good old times of poetry, are not encumbered and enfeebled by the trammels of custom and the dull weight of other men's ideas, yet they are oppressed by the consciousness of a want of the common advantages which others have, are looking at the tinsel finery of the age, while they neglect the rich unexplored mine in their own breasts, and instead of setting an example for the world to follow, spend their lives in aping, or in the despair of aping, the hackneyed accomplishments of their inferiors. Another cause may be that original genius alone is not sufficient to produce the highest excellence without a corresponding state of manners, passions, and religious belief; that no single mind can move in direct opposition to the vast machine of the world around it; that the poet can do no more than stamp the mind of his age upon his works; and that all that the ambition of the highest genius can hope to arrive at after the lapse of one or two generations is the perfection of that more refined and effeminate style of studied elegance and adventitious ornament which is the result, not of Nature, but of art. In fact, no other style of poetry has succeeded, or seems likely
to succeed, in the present day. The public taste hangs like a millstone round the neck of all original genius that does not conform to established and exclusive models. The writer is not only without popular sympathy, but without a rich and varied mass of materials for his mind to work upon and assimilate unconsciously to itself; his attempts at originality are looked upon as affectation, and in the end degenerate into it from the natural spirit of contradiction and the constant uneasy sense of disappointment and undeserved ridicule. But to return.
Crabbe is, if not the most natural, the most literal of our descriptive poets. He exhibits the smallest circumstances of the smallest things. He gives the very costume of meanness, the non-essentials of every trifling incident. He is his own landscape-painter, and engraver too. His pastoral scenes seem pricked on paper in little dotted lines. He describes the interior. of a cottage like a person sent there to distrain for rent. He has an eye to the number of arms in an old worm-eaten chair, and takes care to inform himself and the reader whether a jointstool stands upon three legs or upon four. If a settle by the fire-side stands awry, it gives him as much disturbance as a tottering world; and he records the rent in a ragged counterpane
as an event in history. He is equally curious in his backgrounds and in his figures. You know the christian and surnames of every one of his heroes, the dates of their achievements, whether on a Sunday or a Monday, their place of birth and burial, the colour of their clothes and of their hair, and whether they squinted or not. He takes an inventory of the human heart exactly in the same manner as of the furniture of a sick room: his sentiments have very much the air of fixtures; he gives you the petrifaction of a sigh, and carves a tear to the life in stone. Almost all his characters are tired of their lives, and you heartily wish them dead. They remind one of anatomical preservations, or may be said to bear the same relation to actual life that a stuffed cat in a glass-case does to the real one purring on the hearth the skin is the same, but the life and the sense of heat is gone. Crabbe's poetry is like a museum or curiosity-shop; everything has the same posthumous appearance, the same inanimateness and identity of character. If Bloomfield is too much of the farmer's boy, Crabbe is too much of the parish beadle, [of] an overseer of the country poor. He has no delight beyond the walls of a workhouse, and his officious zeal would convert the world into a vast infirmary.
He is a kind of Ordinary, not of Newgate, but of Nature. His poetical morality is taken from Burn's Justice, or the Statutes against Vagrants. He sets his own imagination in the stocks, and his Muse, like Malvolio, wears cross garters.' He collects all the petty vices of the human heart, and superintends, as in a panopticon, a select circle of rural malefactors. He makes out the poor to be as bad as the rich, a sort of vermin for the others to hunt down and trample upon; and this he thinks a good piece of work. With him there are but two moral categories, — riches and poverty; authority and dependence. His parish apprentice, Richard Monday, and his wealthy baronet, Sir Richard Monday, of Monday Place, are the same individual, the extremes of the same character and of his whole system. 'The latter end of his Commonwealth does not forget the beginning.' But his parish ethics are the very worst models for a state; anything more degrading and helpless cannot well be imagined. He exhibits just the contrary view of human life to that which Gay has done in his Beggar's Opera.' In a word, Crabbe is the only poet who has attempted and succeeded in the still life of tragedy, who gives the stagnation of hope and fear, the deformity of vice without
the temptation, the pain of sympathy without the interest, and who seems to rely, for the delight he is to convey to his reader, on the truth and accuracy with which he describes only what is disagreeable.
The best descriptive poetry is not, after all, to be found in our descriptive poets. There are set descriptions of the flowers, for instance, in Thomson, Cowper, and others, but none equal to those in Milton's Lycidas' and in the Winter's Tale.'
We have few good pastorals in the language. Our manners are not Arcadian; our climate is not an eternal spring; our age is not the age of gold. We have no pastoral writers equal to Theocritus,1 nor any landscapes like those of Claude Lorraine. The best parts of Spenser's 'Shepherd's Calendar' are two fables, Mother Hubbard's Tale, and the Oak and the Brier, which last is as splendid a piece of oratory as any to be found in the records of the eloquence of the British senate! Browne-who came after Spenser and Wither have left some pleas
1 Except, perhaps, Allan Ramsay, whose 'Gentle Shepherd' was produced in a climate even less Arcadian than that of England. Gay's Pastorals scarcely answer to the description; they are not, strictly speaking, bucolics.ED.