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306 CRABBE's CHIEF THEME.

Italian books, and took long walks through the fields. Such pursuits, combined with the unflagging labour of the pen, filled those hours of the country clergyman that were not given to the duties of his sacred office. His most successful work, The Parish Register, appeared in 1807; and three years later came The Borough, in which, perhaps, we find his most powerful painting. About a year after the loss of his wife, which befell him in 1813, he was presented by the Duke of Rutland to the living of Trowbridge in Wilt1814 shire, worth £800 a year. There he wrought at his last A.D. great literary task, The Tales of the Hall, which were published in 1819, and for which, with the remaining copyright of his poems, he received the large sum of £3000. There, too, he died at a ripe old age, on the 3rd of February 1832. The English poor—their woes, weaknesses, and sins—form the almost unvarying theme of Crabbe's poetry. Himself a poor man's son, he could not help, whenever he visited the hovels or the parish workhouse at Muston or at Trowbridge, recollecting the days when he had played with ragged boys down by the shipping in the little harbour of Aldborough ; or when he had stood by the sick-beds of labourers and boatmen, a poor country surgeon living a more wretched and precarious life than many of his patients. He had been himself within the veil of the poor man's life—he had himself felt many of the sorrows that smite the poor; and thus it was that he could produce, with such marvellous truth and minuteness of detail, those grey photographs of humble village life which extorted Byron's expressive line. The distinguishing feature of his poetry is the wonderful minuteness of his descriptive passages. One of the most objective of our poets, he described faithfully all that he saw, and little seems to have escaped his searching ken. Upon the sea he dwells with especial love. It was almost the only beautiful object that met his young eyes at Aldborough; and whether he writes of it as the gentle, sunny thing, that taps lazily at the side of a stranded ship, or the fierce and powerful element that sweeps in white fury over sharp and splintered rocks, some

SPECIMEN OF CRABBE'S VERSE.

397

of his finest lines flow and brighten in its praise. He has been called a “ Pope in worsted stockings;" which simply means, when we get rid of the faint flavour of the wit, that he wrote in the pentameter couplet of which Pope was so fond, and that he wrote about the poor. Otherwise, there is as slight similarity between the testy little invalid of Twickenham, and the mild, venerable rector of Trowbridge, as between the powdered and brocaded Belinda of the one, whose tress is severed by the daring scissors, and the sweet, rustic, rosy-cheeked Phoebe Dawson of the other, who trips smiling across the village green.

ISAAC ASHFORD.

(FROM

THE PARISH REGISTER.")
Next to these ladies, but in nought allied,
A noble peasant, Isaac Ashford, died.
Noble he was, contemning all things mean,
His truth unquestioned and his soul serene.
Of no man's presence Isaac felt afraid ;
At no man's question Isaac looked dismayed :
Shame knew him not, he dreaded no disgrace;
Truth, simple truth, was written in his face.
Yet while the serious thought his soul approved,
Cheerful he seemed, and gentleness he loved ;
To bliss domestic he his heart resigned,
And with the firmest, had the fondest mind.
Were others joyful, he looked smiling on,
And gave allowance where he needed none;
Good he refused with future ill to buy,
Nor knew a joy that caused reflection's sigh.
A friend to virtue, his unclouded breast
No envy stung, no jealousy distressed —
Bane of the poor! it wounds their weaker mind
To miss one favour which their neighbours find.
Yet far was he from stoic pride removed ;
He felt humanely, and he warmly loved:
I marked his action when his infant died,
And his old neighbour for offence was tried ;
The still tears, stealing down that furrowed cheek,
Spoke pity plainer than the tongue can speak.
If pride was his, 'twas not their vulgar pride,
Who, in their base contempt, the great deride;

308

SPECIMEN OF CRABBE's VERSE.

Nor pride in learning, though my clerk agreed,
If fate should call him, Ashford might succeed;
Nor pride in rustic skill, although we knew
None his superior, and his equals few:
But if that spirit in his soul had place,
It was the jealous pride that shuns disgrace;
A pride in honest fame, by virtue gained,
In sturdy boys to virtuous labours trained;
Pride in the power that guards his country's coast,
And all that Englishmen enjoy and boast;
Pride in a life that slander's tongue defied,—
In fact, a noble passion, misnamed pride.

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WHETHER we estimate him by the enormous amount of literary work he accomplished, or by the splendour of the fame that he achieved, Scott must be reckoned beyond question the greatest writer that the nineteenth century has yet produced. Before he began to pour his wonderful series of novels from a well of fancy that seemed without measure and without depth, he had already won a brilliant and lasting renown as a poet of chivalry and romance.

As the object of this chapter is to present a clear and vivid sketch of Scott's life, we shall best avoid confusion by dividing that life into four great periods, to be touched on in succession, reserving for the close a short account of the principal works with which this magnificent genius endowed his country and the world.

I. From his birth in 1771 to his entrance on literary life in

1796 by the publication of Bürger's Lenore, translated from the German. This period, extending over twentyfive years, includes his early life, his education, his

apprenticeship, and his first appearance as an advocate. II. From 1796 to the publication of Waverley in 1814. This

period of eighteen years, from his twenty-fifth to his fortythird

year, includes the publication of his chief poems, and his editions of Dryden and of Swift. It was a time of growing fame.

400 THE BEST-LOVED SCENE OF ALL.

III. From 1814 to the great catastrophe of 1826, when he sat down, a man of fifty-five, to write off a debt considerably above £100,000. During these twelve years, the brightest of his life, he produced his finest novels, and built on the banks of Tweed his mansion of Abbotsford.

IV. From 1826 to his death, a period of six years, devoted to constant literary toil, rendered doubly painful towards the end by the consciousness of decaying powers, and the shocks of mortal disease. Literally, Scott wrote himself to death. The noble genius, straining every nerve under an overwhelming burden, burst his heart and fell, just when the goal of his honourable hopes began to rise clearly into view.

In a house at the head of the College Wynd in Edinburgh Walter Scott was born, on the 15th of August 1771. 1771. His father was a respectable Writer to the Signet; his A.D. mother, Anne Rutherford, was the daughter of an eminent Edinburgh physician. When a toddling bairn of only eighteen months, a severe teething fever deprived him of the power of his right leg. The earliest recollections of the child were of a fairer kind than the College Wynd, or even George's Square, to which the family soon removed, could afford. The delighted eyes of the poor lame little fellow, as he lay among his intimate friends the sheep, on the grass-cushioned crags of Sandy-Knowe, saw, below, the windings of the silver Tweed, and the grey ruins of Dryburgh nestling among dark yew trees; and in front the purple summits of “Eildon's triple height.” And this scene, the first he was conscious of gazing upon, was to the last most fondly loved of all. With Tweed, above all other names, the memory of Scott is imperishably associated. And upon that warm September day when his spirit fled, “the gentle ripple of Tweed over its pebbles” was almost the last earthly sound that fell upon his dying ear. At the High School of Edinburgh he spent some years, having entered Luke Fraser's second class in 1779, and passed to the tuition of the rector, Dr. Adam, in 1782. He did nothing remarkable in the class-rooms; but in the yards of the High School

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