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it is not poetry, and yet how clever! Why, there is certainly a resemblance to the style of Pope, yet what subjects, what characters, what ordinary phraseology! The country parson, certainly, is a great reader of Pope, but how unlike Pope's is the music of the rhythm—if music there be! What an opening for a poem in four-and-twenty Books !
“ Describe the Borough-though our idle tribe,
And lengthen out iny lays from door to door ?" No, good parson! how should you? I exclaimed to myself. You see the absurdity of your subject, and yet you rush into it. He who sung of the Greek Fleet certainly would never have thought of singing of Alley, Lane, or Street! What a difference from
“Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumbered, heavenly goddess, sing !" Or
“ The man for wisdom's various arts renowned,
Long exercised in woes, O Muse, resound !" What a difference from
“ Arms and the man I sing, who forced by fate,
And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate!"
“Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
With this glorious sound in my ears, like the opening hymn of an archangel-language in which more music and more dignity were united than in any composition of mere mortal man, and which heralded in the universe, God and man, perdition and salvation, creation and the great sum total of the human destinies,—what a fall was there to those astounding words
"Describe the Borough!" It was a shock to every thing of the ideal great and poetical in the young and sensitive mind, attuned to the harmonies of a thousand great lays of the by-gone times, that was never to be forgotten. Are we then come to this ? I asked. Is this the scale of topic, and is this the tone to which we are reduced in this generation ? Turning over the heads of the different Books did not much tend to remove this feeling. The Church, Sects, the Election, Law, Physic, Trades, Clubs and Social Meetings, Players, Almshouse and Trustees, Peter Grimes and Prisons! What, in heaven's name, were the whole nine Muses to do with such a set of themes! And then the actors ! See a set of drunken sailors in their ale-house :
“ The Anchor, too, affords the seaman joys,
In small smoked room, all clamor, crowds, and noise ;
But, spite of all, a book was a book, and therefore it was read. At every page the same struggle went on in the mind between all the old notions of poetry, and the vivid pictures of actual life which it unfolded. When I had read it once, I told the lender that it was the strangest, cleverest, and most absorbing book I had ever read, but that it was no poem. It was only by a second and a third perusal that the first surprise subsided; the first shock gone by, the poem began to rise out of the novel composition. The deep and experienced knowledge of human life, the sound sense, the quiet satire, there was no overlooking from the first; and soon the warm sympathy with poverty and suffering, the boldness to display them as they existed, and to suffer no longer poetry to wrap her golden haze round human life, and to conceal all that ought to be known, because it must be known before it could be removed; the tender pathos, and the true feeling for nature, grew every hour on the mind. It was not long before George Crabbe became as firmly fixed in my bosom as a great and genuine poet, as Rembrandt, or Collins, or Edwin Landseer are as genuine painters.
Crabbe saw plainly what was become the great disease of our literature. It was a departure from actual life and nature. “ I've often marveled, when by night, by day,
I've marked the manners moving in my way,
“ To me it seems, their females and their men
To these home-truths, succeeds that admirable satirical description of our novel literature, which introduces the sad story of Ellen Orford. My space is little, but I must give a specimen of the manner in which the Cervantes of England strips away the sublime fooleries of our literary knighterrantry.
“ Time have I lent—I would their debt were less
To flowing pages of sublime distress;
I've watched a wintry night on castle walls,
“Lo! that chateau, the western tower decayed,
Hark to the winds! which, through the wide saloon,
“Much have I feared, but am no more afraid,
From all this false sublime, Crabbe was the first to free us, and to lead us into the true sublime of genuine human life. How novel at that time, and yet how thrilling, was the incident of the sea-side visitors surprised out on the sands by the rise of the tide. Here was real sublimity of distress, real display of human passion. The lady, with her children in her hand, wandering from the tea-table which had been spread on the sands, sees the boatmen asleep, the boat adrift, and the tide advancing :
“She gazed, she trembled, and though faint her call,
It seemed like thunder to confound them all.