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"This is a Likeness," may they all declare,
"And I have seen him, but I know not where:" For I should mourn the mischief I had done, If as the likeness all would fix on one.
Man's Vice and Crime I combat as I can,
A fellow-sinner, who must rather dread
No! let the guiltless, if there such be found, Launch forth the spear, and deal the deadly wound; How can I so the cause of Virtue aid, Who am myself attainted and afraid? Yet as I can, I point the powers of rhyme, And, sparing criminals, attack the crime. (1
(1) ["The Borough contains a description, in twenty-four letters, of a'sea-port. A glance at the contents is sufficient to prove that the author is far from having abjured the system of delineating in verse subjects little grateful to poetry. No themes surely can be more untunable than those to which he has here attempered his lyre. It is observable, too, that they are sought in a class of society yet lower than that which he has hitherto represented. The impurities of a rural hamlet were sufficiently repulsive;
what then must be those of a maritime borough? This gradual sinking in the scale of realities seems to us a direct consequence of that principle of Mr. Crabbe, on which we have hazarded some strictures. The 'Borough' is purely the creature of that principle; the legitimate successor of the 'Village' and the Parish Register.' Indeed, if the checks of fancy and taste be removed from poetry, and admission be granted to images, of
whatever description, provided they have the passport of reality, it is not easy to tell at what point the line of exclusion should be drawn, or why it should be drawn at all. No image of depravity, so long as it answers to some archetype in nature or art, can be refused the benefit of the general rule. It was the misfortune of Mr. Crabbe's former poems, that they were restricted to a narrow range. They treated of a particular class of men and manners, and therefore precluded those representations of general nature, which, it scarcely needs the authority of Johnson to convince us, are the only things that can please many and please long.' But, with respect to the present poem, this circumstance prevails to a much greater degree. In the inhabitants of a sea-port there are obviously but few generic traces of nature to be detected. The mixed character of their pursuits, and their amphibious sort of life, throw their manners and customs into a striking cast of singularity, and make them almost a separate variety of the human race. Among the existing modifications of society, it may be questioned if there be one which is more distinctly specified, we might say individualised."- GIFFORD. The reader will find Mr. Crabbe's own answer to the foregoing criticism, in the preface to the Tales, in a subsequent page of this volume.]
THE LADIES OF THE LAKE.
WRITTEN ON VISITING NORMANSTON IN THE YEAR 1785.
["Normanston, a sweet little villa near Beccles, was one of the early resorts of Mr. Crabbe and Miss Elmy, in the days of their anxious affection. Here four or five spinsters of independent fortune had formed a sort of Protestant nunnery, the abbess being Miss Blacknell, who afterwards deserted it to become the wife of the late Admiral Sir Thomas Graves, a lady of distinguished elegance in her tastes and manners. Another of the sisterhood was Miss Waldron, late of Tamworth, dear, good-humoured, hearty, masculine Miss Waldron, who could sing a jovial song like a fox-hunter, and, like him, I had almost said, toss a glass; and yet there was such an air of high ton, and such intellect mingled with these manners, that the perfect lady was not veiled for a moment."
Life of Crabbe, antè, Vol. I. p. 147. A lady of rank, in Norfolk, has lately written as follows to the Poet's biographer: -"The enjoyment of your Memoir was much increased by my knowledge of several of the parties mentioned in it. Miss Blacknell and Miss Waldron were the acquaintance of my early youth: a visit to Normanston was always a joyful event; and, notwithstanding the masculine deportment of Miss Waldron, her excellent sense and good nature caused her to be preferred, by many judges of character, to her more dignified and graceful companion. I have in my possession a copy of very appropriate verses, which Mr. Crabbe addressed to Miss B. and Miss W. in the year 1785.".
SHALL I, who oft have woo'd the Muse
So fair a theme as this refuse
The Ladies of the Lake?