A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Nineteen
CRABBE

COWPER'S satires, as we have called them, were published in 1782. Next year appeared The Village, by George Crabbe ( 1754- 1832). Each poet had already written much and published a little --Cowper the "Olney Hymns" in 1779, and "Anti-Thelyphthora" (a satirical poem on his cousin Madan's defence of polygamy as a punishment, and cure, for adultery) in 1781; Crabbe The Candidate ( 1780), The Library ( 1781). But it was the volumes of 1782 and 1783 which marked the definite début of the two as individual, remarkable poets.

Crabbe, like Cowper, had passed through troubled waters before emerging as an author, but troubles of a very different kind. Cowper's afflictions came entirely from within. Given a sound nervous system, Cowper's life would have passed smoothly enough, as it glided from one sinecure to another. Poor Crabbe's troubles were of a more solid character,--poverty, an uncompleted scanty education, degrading employment, and finally some weeks of agitation and despair in Grub Street, hoping against hope for the patronage of statesmen, relieved at last through the generosity of Burke, and floated into the haven of the Anglican Ministry and such various provision as patrons could supply,--curacies, chaplainries, parishes.

The differences in the experiences are vividly reflected in the work of the two poets,--Cowper's sermons, his withdrawal from and narrow condemnation of all that he personally shrank from, his epicurean delight in the country and the quiet fireside; Crabbe's vivid, detailed, sombre pictures of human life, of human nature's bitter struggles with adverse circumstances without, with passions and frailties within: the poet

Loves the mind in all its modes to trace,
And all the manners of the changing race.

-268-

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