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Art. II. Tales of the Hall
. By the Rev. George Crabbe, LL.B. 2 Vols. 8vo. pp. xxiv. 679. London. 1819. MR.
[R. CRABBE has written a long preface to these Tales, for
the singular purpose of shewing that no preface was necessary; that the reasons which induce an author to bespeak the attention of his readers to a prefatory address, do not at all apply to his own case; that be is not uninformed of the place assigned bim as a writer, and that with the degree of public favour which he enjoys, he has no reason to be dissatisfied. His motive for writing it, was, he tells us, the fear that it would
appear to his readers like arrogancy, to send two volumes of considerable magnitude from the press without preface or
apology. This fear was assuredly groundless ; but for our own part, 'we are always glad to meet with a preface : it is often the most characteristic part of a volume, and how uninteresting and superfluous soever in every other point of view, it seldom fails to discover to us some trait of the writer's mind, which renders us better acquainted with the man. We were, however, unfeignedly surprised to find Mr. Crabbe disclaiming
the tone of a moralist,' and, diffident of any beneficial effect from these relations,' contenting himself with the hope, that nothing in his pages would be found of a mischievous tendency. Though not sangaine ourselves as to the moral benefit likely to result from his labours, we had candidly given our reverend Author credit for worthier intentions. This did not arise from our thinking, as he is aware some will think, that a minister of ' religion in the decline of life, should have no leisure for such • amusements as these,'--for whom, he says, 'I have no reply,'but from our imagining that an individual sustaining the responsibility of the sacred office, superadded to that which attaches to every possessor of distinguishing genius, would naturally propose to bimself some moral purpose as the end even of his amusements, were it only that to himself he might seem something better, in the decline of life, than a trifler. Why Mr. Crabbe should have deemed it adviseable to undeceive us on this point, we find it difficult to conjectare; but we subjoin what púrports to be an explanation.
• For them I have no reply ;-but to those who are more indulgent to the propensities, the studies, and the habits of mankind, I offer some apology when I produce these volumes, not as the occupations of my life, but the fruits of my leisure, the employment of that time which, if not given to them, had passed in the vacuity of unrecorded idleness, or had been lost in the indulgence of unregistered thoughts and fancies, that melt away in the instant they are conceived, and « leave not a wreck behind.”
It is obvious, that in reference to the productions of a writer of acknowledged talent and established fame, who has, to a
certain extent, the command of the public attention, the moral tendency of what proceeds from his pen, forms the most interesting consideration, more especially as it can scarcely be of a negative character. And Mr. Crabbe has laid himself so very open to severe censure by the injurious and even irreligious tendency of some of his former Tales, that we should have been glad to find him disposed, on appearing again before the public after the lapse of six years, to repair, or offer some atonement for, the wrong. And he does affirm that " there is nothing in these
pages which has the mischievous effect of confounding truth and error, or confusing our ideas of right and wrong.'
• I know not,' he adds, which is most injurious to the yielding minds of the young, to render virtue less respectable by making its possessors ridiculous, or by describing vice with so many fascinating qualities, that it is either lost in the assemblage, or pardoned by the association. Man's heart is sufficiently prone to make excuse for man's infirmity; and needs not the aid of poetry, or eloquence, to take from vice its native deformity. A character may be respectable with all its faults, but it must not be made respectable by them. It is grievous when genius will condescend to place strong and evil spirits in a commanding view, or excite our pity and admiration for men of talents, degraded by crime, when struggling with misfortune. It is but too true, that great and wicked men may be so presented to us, as to demand our applause, when they should excite our abliorrence; but it is surely for the interest of mankind, and our own self direction, that we should ever keep at unapproachable distance, our respect and our reproach.'
These remarks are exceedingly just, and do the Writer credit. His poetry is, to an exemplary degree, clear of the offence he reprobates, that of rendering vice fascinating. We wish we could wholly acquit him of the opposite offence. But although be is not chargeable with rendering virtue less respectable by the direct method of ridiculing its possessors, yet, under the pretence of lashing hypocrisy and fanaticism, he has not scrupled to countenance the most unjust and pernicious prejudices against those whose religious profession singularizes them from their neighbours. The ridicule and obloquy which he has taken every opportunity to lavish on the believers in the birth divine;' is sufficiently indiscriminate in its application ; but a large proportion of his readers, still less conversant with theological distinctions than himself, will not fail to apply it even more extensively than he has designed it; and will thus be hardened in those opinions of all persons of resolute and decided. piety, which Scripture refers to a brutal entity' of mind. That man's heart is prone to make excuse for man's infiripity, must be admitted with some qualification. The world loves its own ; but there
are those in whom it tolerates no infirmity; in whom, indeed, it can scarcely be said to tolerate any good.
It is grievous' when genius will lend itself to portray base and evil spirits, as the representatives and specimens of a class, or to connect with the tenets of any particular school, hypocrisy and meanness. The 'interest of mankind,' and the Writer's own • self direction,' are surely left quite out of consideration, wben what ought to conciliate our respect, is thus identified with all that is reproachful to our nature.
There is less of this in the present volumes, than in the 'Tales,' or the Borough;' a circumstance which we should readily have set down to the account of the Author's better informed judgement, or improved taste, were it not for the gross profaneness which still characterizes his ridicule whenever an opportunity of the kind appears to present itself. In the Maid's Story,' Frederick, a young collegian, is successively exbibited as a Methodist teacher, a soldier, an infidel, and a strolling player. Mr. Crabbe would probably say, that he drew the eharacter from real life; and the character has all the verisiinilitude of life. We think it the more probable that the Author bas, at some time or other, become acquainted with an apostate of ibis description, because his notions of the Sect' to which Frederick is attached, are precisely such as Mr. Crabbe would be likely to obtain through such a channel. It is at least from witnesses just as competent and as credible, that he bas obtained the materials for his portraiture of Methodism.
• He told his flight from superstitious zeal ;
" Was I by reason and exertion freed.”' Vol. i. p. 308. When a writer, disclaiming any graver purpose, avows that
his first intention is, to please,' he may seem to claim some license in the use he makes of the materials of his narrative. We will not, therefore, stay to point out the beueficial effect wbich such a relation as the history of Frederick might have been made to subserve, in the bands of a poet who, to Mr. Crabbe's genius, should add certain qualifications which Mr. Crabbe does not possess.'. We would merely remark, that it is not the delineation of such a character, that is reprehensible, but the obviously unfair and pernicious use which is made of it. Such lines as the following, sufficiently evince the utter incapacity of the Author to treat with propriety tbe subject of religious apostacy,or, indeed, any subject connected with religion.
« And what,” they said, as having power," are now
• I gave two precious hours • To hear of gifts and graces, helps and powers.' A man who boldly ridicules that cardinal doctrine of the Re. formation, Justification by Faith, and who can bring in for the purpose of burlesque, so beautiful a Scriptural allusion the one introduced in the first of these specimens, may with great consistency, himself being a clergyman, sneer at conversion as a substitute for episcopal ordination. After this, it is perfectly unnecessary to comment on any want of liberality discovered in his estimate of the Dissenters from that Church whose priest he is; such, for instance, as is implied inthe sentiments of the Squire, who
- viewed the Church as liberal minds will view,
Or to the Meeting or the Tavern Door.' This is much in the same enlightened spirit as Judge Blackstone's language: ' If, through weakness of intellect, through s misdirected piety, through perverseness and acerbity of temper,
or, which is often the case, through a prospect of secular advantage in herding with a party, men quarrel with the Eccle
siastical Establishment,' &c. Except, indeed, that Mr. Crabbe leaves no room for the supposition, that piety, however misdi. rected, can have any share in diverting men from either the Church or tlie Tavern, to the Meeting-house.
Our Author prides himself on his knowledge of the world, and bis insight into human character.
• Come then, fair Truth! and let me clearly see
And closely let me view the naked human heart.'
of describing with anatomical accuracy, as well as picturesque force, every morbid variety of the moral subject. He has been a diligent observer, and he is a no less skilful dissector. · But his knowledge is purely that which is derived from close observation ; and the field of his observation has exclusively been what we must designate by that equivocal phrase-the world. It is, in other words, the worldly,--the polite and gay, or the base and mean, the careless or the hopeless worldling,—that supply the materials of his parish registers. It is the world in all its naked barrenness and dreariness, it is the human character in its native weakness and obliquity, it is life as a tissue of vanity and vexation, that he unfolds to us. His tales are all half elegy, half satire. He tells us what he has seen, and he must have seen what he paints so well. But the heart of a reflecting man would often faint at what he sees, were it not for the relief afforded by recurring to what he can imagine and what be loves to believe. Mr. Crabbe, however, sternly sets himself to combat the illusions which imagination would throw over the scene. He is for ba nishing fiction even from poetry. He would have us walk through the world with the sobriety and self possession with which we should walk the bospital, treasuring up all the dirty facts and painful occurrences we meet with, as so much knowledge that may turn to our private use in practice. What is displeasing, what is disgusting, is not the less acceptable to him if it presents some fresh variety of buman nature. Dugald Stewart bas remarked on the traces of early habits of association, whicis may be detected in writers upon abstract subjects, in their frequevt recurrence to some one favourite method of analogical illustration : as for instance, the writer who shall be: perpetually speaking of coils and springs and regulating principles in reference to the pbenomena of mind, shall prove to be the son of a watchmaker; and in another, who is for ever borrowing his metaphors from the art of bealing, we shall recognise the medical student. In like manner, in our clerical Poet there still survives the Surgeon and Apothecary of Aldborough. Not that his ploraseology smells of the “ Pharmacopeia,” but bis poetical system, though he disavows any specific theory on the subject, bears the marks of a professional view of men and things, strikingly analogous to that with which the medical practitioner is doomed to be familiar. This is a view the very reverse of that which would seem to favour the purpose of the poet; but it suits Mr. Crabbe ; and, if we admit it as an axiom of Common Sense,' that
• None but a bard his own true line can tell,
• He chooses right who executes it well.'we must congratulate bim upon a choice of subject so peculiarly adapted to that modification of taste and that passion