Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

ceed to London and seek his fortune as a literary adventurer. Beyond an inborn confidence in his own genius, we are unable to discover any plausible reason for such a step, for of all professions literature, as a profession, has fewest rewards to the unknown aspirant; and Crabbe at this time neither possessed any works whose merits entitled them to public favour, nor were his talents of that peculiar character which are calculated to command attention. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that on arriving at the metropolis he was bitterly disappointed of success, and that a few poems, on which alone he depended, were coldly rejected by the booksellers; other employ• ment he was unable to obtain; he was obliged to part with his watch, books, surgical instruments, and even part of his wardrobe, and being deeply in debt to his landlord, was in danger of being thrown into prison, when a providential turn in his affairs removed all his embarrassments, and opened up the way to a highly prosperous career.

The age of patrons was passing, but had not quite passed away, nor with it the dependence of literary men upon nobles, and those in eminent position in society. Whén Crabbe set out on his expedition to London, he made application to Mr Dudley North, the brother of the Member of Parliament for Aldborough, for a loan of money to aid him in his literary pursuits, and received the sum of five pounds. His failure with the booksellers prompted him to similar applications to the Premier Lord North, to Lord Shelburne, and the Lord Chancellor Thurlow, and on the total neglect of his petitions, he wrote a second epistle to the latter complaining in severe terms of the unmerited contempt with which literary men were now treated by those in power, and reminding him that there had been a period when it was esteemed one of the duties of the Chancellor to bestow his patronage on the votary of litera' ure This letter is to be excused in the circumstances in which it was written, for want and a prison are poor reasoners. But a little cool reflection might have convinced the poet of the folly of his expectations. A young man, unable to obtain a livelihood by his profession, sets out to London with a few shillings in his pocket; and without any such merit as to force its excellence upon the public, hopes te push his way to eminence. He fails. What are his claims upon the world? In what does the literary adventurer differ from the unsuccessfuí merchant who, with equally honourable intentions, finds himself left aground by the ebbing tide of fortune ? The man to whom literature is nothing more than a means of gaining his livelihood must be tried on commercial principles. Booksellers who see the intrinsic worth of the new aspirant's labour, but to whom, as a matter of business, the publication would be ruinous, are not to be taxed with insensibility to genius; nor are patrons to be reproached for their unkindness because they leave unknown merit to fight its own batties. If the literary man has some great idea to promulgate, of which he believes the world to stand in need, and for the sake of this, endures all the miseries of poverty, he is to be honoured as a martyr to literature; but the mere literary adventurer who is unsuccessful, must be contented with the pity which is shown to the unfortunate of any other class. Happily for Crabbe, who would never have been a popular writer, he was led into an easier path.

Failing in all his other applications he bethought himself of Edmund Burke, then in the height of his fame, and enclosed one of his poems with a manly letter in which he stated the extremity of his need, and his hopes that one so benevolent would aid him to obtain a situation in which he might earn an honest subsistence. Burke immediately appointed an hour for meeting him, became interested in his favour, invited him to take up his residence in his house, gave his poems the benefit of his critical revision, gained over Dodsley the bookseller to his interests, by whom his first poem, "The Library” was published, and by strong recommendations to his numerous friends succeeded in procuring for it a considerable sale.

“ The Library” was the pioneer of a more popular work, viz., “ The Vil. lage,” which was written for the most part under Burke's roof, and obtained the benefit of his correction, but was not published till the year 1783. An eminent critic told Crabbe shortly after its publication, that henceforth Goldsmith's would be the Deserted Village, a compliment which is not to be too literally applied.

Burke introduced the young poet to some of the great men of that day, among whom Crabbe spoke of Dr Johnson with peculiar pride, but his friendship did not end here. Learning that he felt a strong partiality to the Church, he applied to the Bishop of Norwich, by whom the ordinary rules were suspended, and after passing a very creditable examination he was admitted to deacons' orders on the 21st December 1781, and was ordained a priest in August of the year following. His first curacy was in Aldborough his native place, to which he returned occupy. ing a very different position, and with very different feel. ings from those with which he had quitted it little more than a year before. He was not long permitted to remain in his first situation, the same indefatigable friend who had rescued him from poverty, obtained for him the office of domestic chaplain to the Duke of Rutland, by whom and his Duchess he was treated with the greatest kindness.

The remainder of Crabbe's life presents us with few striking incidents. In 1783 he was married to Miss Elmy. In 1785 he published a new poem entitled “The News paper,"after which, for twenty-two years, he ceased to pu

lish, though whole tomes of manuscript in prose and verse were accumulated, but which were finally, to the great joy of his merry children, gathered in front of the house and committed to the flames. Among these were three novels. It would not interest the reader to relate the circumstances connected with his removal from Belvoir Castle to his curacy of Stathern, and thence to Muston, Parham, Glemham, Rendham, and Trowbridge. To the latter rectory he removed on the death of his wife in 1813. This will be the proper place to offer a few observations on his ministerial labours, and to throw together some remarks on his manners and habits.

Crabbe was not more a clergyman from necessity than from choice. A mother's instructions, and a severe illness, were the means of leading him to embrace true religion, to which he remained sincerely attached througbout his whole life. Nothing can be more humble or earnest than his prayers, while his prospects in London were so dark : and of his first book he writes to his future wife-“I have, if I may so say, consecrated it, by begging of Him, who alone can direct all things, to give me success in it, or patience under any disappointment I may meet with from its want.ng that.” As a preacher it does not appear that he was very popular. A friend of his observes—“He did not enjoy the happiness which many pastors express in being able to benefit their flocks; never was satisfied that he used the best means; and complained that men more embued with a sense of the terrors of the Lord, and less with his mercies, succeeded better.” His principles, especially in his latter years, tended towards those which are termed Evangelical, but his creed was not well-defined, and theology never appears to have been a favourite study. We cannot, therefore, be greatly surprised if those ministers to whom the

eaching of the Gospel was the whole busi • ness of life, should, as at Muston, have withdrawn from him a large portion of his congregation, nor was his intercourse with the world of a character calculated to make a favourable impression on religious minds. He would attend the theatre occasionally; even so late as 1817, when he was above sixty years of age, he notes his attendance on Charles Kemble; the race-course was also visited ; and his extensive acquaintance with literary men, among whom were necessarily many in whom piety was not a prominent feature, would lead those of stricter habits to view his religion with unmerited suspicion. In the freedom with which Crabbe mingled in the world, he claimed the liberty which he gave to others to judge for himself. He had no right, however, to complain that as a clergyman bis religious influence was so feeble. Religion cannot be served by halves. As a pastor he was more successful than as a preacher. “ To his proper ministerial duties” writes a friend, "he ever attached great importance. He would put off a meditated journey rather than leave a poor parishioner who required his services, and from his knowledge of human nature, he was able in a remarkable manner to throw himself into the circumstance of those who needed his help.” To his popularity as a pastor, his remarkable benevolence greatly contributed. This was one of the most beautiful traits of his character. After his first acquaintance with Burke, that great man introduced him to Lord Thurlow, who asked him to breakfast, and on his leaving put a note into his hand as a token of his regret for neglecting his first application to him. On opening it, it proved to be a cheque for one hundred pounds! The first use to which the kind-hearted Crabbe put this handsome donation, was to appropriate a portion of it to the relief of some poor and deserving objects with whom bis own poverty had made him acquainted ; and as often

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »