« AnteriorContinuar »
but in the spirit of revolt against the whole school of Arcadian fancy. The style was conventional, the matter entirely fresh and directly truthful. Thus 'The Borough' and 'The Village' told exactly what he saw at Aldborough and Muston, but told it in such a way that persons could not be identified, and only the legitimate consequences of the principles upon which they acted could be understood. There was nothing in Crabbe of exact portraiture. He was a constant observer and an unsparing critic; but when he had seen he went back to his study and thought out his visions till they came back to him in another form. He was like a great artist who, after long years' study of Titian, can paint a magnifico of to-day with an understanding that no one who has lived wholly among the moderns can show.
Thus, if you go through the Register of Crabbe's parishes, you will find nothing to recall the incidents he tells in the poems he named after them. The patrons he writes of are not at all like the Duke of Rutland or Burke. No hall that he knew had such 'Tales' as he told. And yet there are no poems in the English language that give a more complete picture of the times in which they were written. Crabbe's merits can only be adequately seen by copious quotation. It is a pity that FitzGerald's selection is not reprinted.
A poet whom Scott and Tennyson, Newman and FitzGerald, have ranked so high we cannot afford to despise. It is easy to parody the weak side of his work: perhaps the Rejected Address' that copies him is the best of them all. In his earlier volumes the influence of Johnson is too apparent, and at the last he was content with the repeated use of too trivial subjects. But at his best he was a great poet. He had a deep knowledge of human nature, a passionate sympathy with suffering, a distinct creative power. And in command of expression he was not deficient. Again and again lines strike you which for vivid effect it would be difficult to surpass. It would be hard to better the famous description of an autumn landscape:
Early he rose, and look'd with many a sigh
On the right side the youth a wood survey'd,
With all its dark intensity of shade;
Where the rough wind alone was heard to move,
When now the young are rear'd, and when the old,
Far to the left he saw the huts of men,
Half hid in mist, that hung upon the fen;
Only in the last lines is Crabbe at all reminiscent of his worst side; and that side belongs, almost of necessity, to his desire to sacrifice everything to the subject he has in mind. He admitted that his descriptive touches were generally additions; they are often obviously such, and yet they are none the worse for it.
On the other hand, he knew his strength. Few poets have known better how to tell a story; no one, perhaps, in English verse has ever told a tale of common life so well. It was a triumph, while using the conventional forms, to have so utterly departed from the artificial spirit. Crabbe's appeal is always forcible and direct. There are no disguises. Vice is painted as it is, and meanness, and folly. Where he describes nature, we feel that his knowledge is as complete as Wordsworth's. When he speaks of man, we know that he is living in the real world. He has often the minute touch of the dramatist: what he lacks is the sentiment of the romance writer. Thus it was on one side only that he appealed to Scott. The Village,' 'The Borough,' The Tales of the Hall' were quite of the spirit of St. Ronan's Well.' Certainly the gentle, kindly, acute mind of Crabbe had many points in common with that of the Wizard of the North; and there are few happier literary memories than those Lockhart recalls of the days the two spent together in Edinburgh. But, with all the sympathy between them, Crabbe was generations more modern than Scott. He was, one often feels, of the age of George Eliot : but he knew the poor as she never knew them. Perhaps, in that aspect, his true fame is yet to come.
A LONDONER'S LOG-BOOK.
CARP OF BRASENOSE must be getting on in life. We all know that he was a correspondent of the Rev. Edward Casaubon, who numbered him among the viros nullo avo perituros; and that carries one a good way back. But his eye for a blunder in a friend's writing has not waxed dim, nor has his natural force of disagreeableness abated. He writes in a rather tremulous hand to point out what he imagines to be an inconsistency between two items of autobiography which have occurred in the pages of this Log-Book.
In introducing myself to the notice of my readers, I said that I was 'a feeble unit of the Great Middle Class.' In describing my present unfamiliarity with smart society, I thought it due to myself to premise that I was 'exceedingly well born.' Now, the fact that Carp thinks he has detected a fatal inconsistency between these two statements only illustrates once again the limitations of the learned. A man whose whole life has been divided between the Common Room of Brasenose and a villa in the Bradmore Road knows nothing of our social vicissitudes. In his well-ordered scheme of life there is no room for decline and fall. It does not begin very high, but then, on the other hand, it ends pretty much where it began. Very different is the lot of those who, being by birth connected with the territorial caste, have been submerged by the Great Middle Class, and swallowed up by the 'dim, common populations' of Suburbia or Stuccovia. For Carp's instruction, and for the vindication of my own accuracy, I must describe the process, painful though such retrospections must always be.
I was born and bred in Loamshire, a county undisturbed by commerce and manufacture, unviolated by smoke and steam. One exiguous and dilatory line of rail meanders through its fat green meadows. In the streets of its chief town one can hear, as well as see, the grass grow. Its inhabitants are to an abnormal degree industrious, orderly, contented, and well-behaved.
They eat, they drink, they sleep, they plod,
They go to church on Sunday;
And many are afraid of God,
And more of Mrs. Grundy.
The county contains no Duke of Omnium or Marquis of Steyneno transcendent and all-absorbing potentate. Our Lord Lieutenant, indeed, is a peer, of ancient creation but of diminished income, who, surrounded by a large family of plain daughters, lives in a dilapidated castle, and lets his shooting. But, on the whole, we don't think much of peers. Squires, of course, are common to all counties, but Loamshire is pre-eminently the land of Baronets. They are dotted all over the county, like knots in a network-comfortable men, a little pompous; with incomes ranging from ten thousand a year in good times to five in bad; living in substantial houses of dark red brick with facings of white stone, set in what they call parks and their detractors meadow-land. Of this goodly company the head of my family is the acknowledged chief. His creation dates from James I., and Proudflesh Park is really a deer-park, marked as such in Mr. Evelyn Philip Shirley's classical work on the subject-not merely a park with deer in it, which, as my kinsman will tell you, is a very different and a very inferior thing.
What need to say that in a neighbourhood thus populated and thus influenced, the time-honoured distinction between The Town' and 'The County' survives in all its vigour? In vain did the Banker and the Brewer accumulate large fortunes, and subscribe handsomely to the Loamshire Hounds. The County would not ask them to dinner. In vain did the Solicitor build himself a French château a hundred yards off the high-road, and give tennisparties in a dusty garden. The Baronets and their belongings held aloof, and the clergy, though they attended the parties, apologised to their squires for doing so. This being the social order of Loamshire, and myself a cadet of the family which has its habitation at Proudflesh Park, I may really say that I was born in the purple-or at least in a highly respectable mauve. When I was three-and-twenty I was considered in the county a very lucky young man. I had just left Oxford, with the blushing honours of a Third in Law thick upon me. I had a genteel independence bequeathed by an aunt, and only one life (reported in the county to be scrofulous) stood between me and the Baronetcy. Thus stimulated, I plunged into the feverish dissi
pations of County Society, tempting matrimonial fate more recklessly than I knew.
Alas! regardless of their doom
No sense have they of ills to come,
Yet see how all around them wait
The ministers of human fate!
I behaved like the rest of my kind, and in my case the minister of human fate was Mrs. Topham-Sawyer. I encountered my destiny at the Loamshire Hunt Ball.
Selina Topham-Sawyer was then (though I say it) an uncommonly pretty girl; but she was one of many sisters, and Mrs. Topham-Sawyer was not the woman to give away a chance. Hushed in grim repose, she expected her evening prey, and she was not disappointed of it. I danced four times with Selina; took her to supper; and 'sate out.' What I said I have never been able to recall with precision, but Selina says that I proposed; and before we left the ball-room I had the happiness of overhearing Mrs. Topham-Sawyer announce her daughter's engagement to a group of buzzing neighbours. It has really been quite an infatuation with him, and he has carried his point by sheer persistency. You know it is not exactly what we could have wished for our dear girl; but he is really a well-principled man; and of course he is quite one of ourselves, which always makes things so much easier. No-nothing much in the way of money. But I believe Mr. Topham-Sawyer is satisfied, and of course Selina's happiness is the first object.'
I hope I am not ungrateful when I say that I have always dated my social decline from that eventful night. My modest fortune, which had sufficed easily enough for a bachelor moving from house to house in hospitable Loamshire, began to shrink uncomfortably when compressed by Marriage Settlements. As I had been called to the Bar, and had no definite occupation in the county, Selina's parents insisted that we must settle in London, 'so that Robert may be near his work '-that mirage of employment and opulence which we always seemed to be nearing, and never reached. My wife being a Topham-Sawyer, and thereby, as every one knows, related to the Harley-Bakers, the Welbecks, and the Hornby-Maddoxes, would have liked a more central situation; but our Trustees insisted on our buying a house in the newly