Thursday, 11th February, 2010

Thus by himself compell’d to live each day,
To wait for certain hours the tide’s delay;
At the same time the same dull views to see,
The bounding marsh-bank and the blighted tree;
The water only, when the tides were high,
When low, the mud half-cover’d and half-dry;
The sun-burnt tar that blisters on the planks,
And bank-side stakes in their uneven ranks;
Heaps of entangled weeds that slowly float,
As the tide rolls by the impeded boat.

When tides were neap, and, in the sultry day,
Through the tall bounding mud-banks made their way,
Which on each side rose swelling, and below
The dark warm flood ran silently and slow;
There anchoring, Peter chose from man to hide,
There hang his head, and view the lazy tide
In its hot slimy channel slowly glide;
Where the small eels that left the deeper way
For the warm shore, within the shallows play;
Where gaping muscles, left upon the mud,
Slope their slow passage to the fallen flood;—
Here dull and hopeless he’d lie down and trace
How sidelong crabs had scrawl’d their crooked race
Or sadly listen to the tuneless cry
Of fishing gull or clanging golden-eye;
What time the sea-birds to the marsh would come,
And the loud bittern, from the bull-rush home,
Gave from the salt-ditch side the bellowing boom:
He nursed the feelings these dull scenes produce,
And loved to stop beside the opening sluice,
Where the small stream, confined in narrow bound,
Ran with a dull, unvaried, sadd’ning sound;
Where all, presented to the eye or ear,
Oppress’d the soul with misery, grief, and fear.

George Crabbe – ‘Letter XXII: Peter Grimes’ from The Borough, 171-204.

One only master grasps the whole domain,
And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain:
No more thy glassy brook reflects the day,
But, choked with sedges, works its weedy way.
Along thy glades, a solitary guest,
The hollow-sounding bittern guards its nest;
Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,
And tires their echoes with unvaried cries.
Sunk are thy bowers in shapeless ruin all,
And the long grass o’ertops the mouldering wall;
And trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,
Far, far away, thy children leave the land.

Oliver Goldsmith – The Deserted Village, 41-50.

Thursday, 14th January, 2010

But She—who shrinks while meditating Flight
In the wide Way, whose Bounds delude her Sight,
Yet tir’d in her own Mazes still to roam
And cull poor Banquets for the Soul at home,
Would, ere she ventures, ponder on the Way,
Left Dangers yet unthought-of Flight betray;
Left her Icarian Wing, by Wits unplum’d,
Be robb’d of all the Honours she assum’d;
And Dullness swell; a black and dismal Sea
Gaping her Grave; while Censures madden me.

George Crabbe, from The Candidate

Friday, 11th December, 2009

The mind of a man of Genius is a fertile and pleasant field, pleasant as Elysium, and fertile as Tempe; it enjoys a perpetual Spring. Of that Spring, Originals are the fairest Flowers: Imitations are of two kinds; one of Nature, one of Authors: The first we call Originals, and confine the term Imitation to the second. I shall not enter into the curious enquiry of what it, or is not, strictly speaking, Original, content with what all must allow, that some Compositions are more so than others; and the more they are so, I say, the better. Originals are, and ought to be, great Favourites, for they are great Benefactors; they extend the Republic of Letters, and add a new province to its dominion: Imitators only give us a sort of Duplicates of what we had, possibly much better, before; increasing the mere Drug of books, while all that makes them valuable, Knowledge and Genius, are at a stand. The pen of an Original Writer, like Armida’s wand, out of a barren waste calls a blooming Spring: Out of that blooming Spring an Imitator is a transplanter of Laurels, which sometimes die in a foreign soil.

But suppose an Imitator to be most excellent (and such there are), yet still he but nobly builds on another’s foundation; his Debt is, at least, equal to his Glory; which therefore, on the balance, cannot be very great. On the contrary, an Original, tho’ but indifferent (its Originality being set aside,) yet has something to boast; it is something to say with him in Horace,

Meo Sum Pauper in ære;

And to share ambition with no less than Cæsar, who declared he had rather be the First in a Village, than the Second at Rome.

Still farther: An Imitator shares his crown, if he has one, with the chosen Object of his Imitation; an Original enjoys an undivided applause. An Original may be said to be of vegetable nature; it rises spontaneously from the vital root of Genius; it grows, it is not made: Imitations are often a sort of Manufacture wrought up by those Mechanics, Art, and Labour, out of pre-existent materials not their own.

Again: We read Imitation with somewhat of his languor, who listens to a twice-told tale: Our spirits rouze at an Original; that is a perfect stranger, and all throng to learn what news from a foreign land: And th’ it comes, like an Indian Prince, adorned with feathers only, having little of weight; yet of our attention it will rob the more Solid, if not equally New: Thus every Telescope is lifted at a new-discovered star; it makes a hundred Astronomers in a moment, and denies equal notice to the sun. But if an Original, by being as excellent, as new, adds admiration to surprise, then we are at the Writer’s mercy; on the strong wing of his Imagination, we are snatched from Britain to Italy, from Climate to Climate, from Pleasure to Pleasure; we have no Home, no Thought, of our own; ’till the Magician drops his Pen: And then falling down in ourselves, we awake to flat Realities, lamenting the change, like the Beggar who dreamt himself a Price.

It is with Thoughts, as it is with Words; and with both, as with Men; they may grow old, and die. Words tarnished, by passing thro’ the mouths of the Vulgar, are laid aside as inelegant, and obsolete. So Thoughts, when become too common, should lose their Currency; and we should send new metal to the Mint, that is, new meaning to the Press. The Division of tongues at Babel did not more effectually debar men from making themselves a name (as the Scripture speaks,) than the too great Concurrence, or Union of tongues will do for ever. We may as well grow good by another’s Virtue, or fat by another’s Food, as famous by another’s Thought. The world will pay its Debt of Praise but once; and instead of applauding, explode a second Demand, as a Cheat.

Edward Young, Conjectures on Original Composition, (Dublin: P. Wilson, 1759), pp 7-10.

Monday, 30th November, 2009

“It is strange to think, in an Age so addicted to the Muses, how Pastoral Poetry comes to be never so much as thought upon considering especially, that it has always been accounted the most considerable of the smaller Poems: Virgil and Spencer made use of it as a Prelude to Heroick Poetry. But I fear the Innocency of the Subject makes it so little inviting at present.

There is no sort of Poetry, if well wrought, but gives Delight. And the Pastoral perhaps may boast of this in a peculiar manner. For, as in Painting, so I believe, in Poetry, the Country affords the most entertaining Scenes, and most delightful Prospects.

Gassendus, I remember, tells us, That Perieskius was a great Lover of Musick, especially that of Birds; because their Artless Strains seem to have less of Passion and Violence, but more of a natural Easiness, and therefore do the rather befriend Contemplation. It is after the Same manner that Pastoral gives a sweet and gentle Composure to the Mind; whereas the Epick and Tragick Poem put the Spirits in too great a Ferment by the Vehemence of their Motions.

To see a stately, well built Palace strikes us, indeed, with Admiration, and swells the Soul, as it were, with Notions of Grandeur. But when I view a little Country Dwelling, advantageously situated amidst a beautiful Variety of Fields, Woods, and Rivers; I feel an unspeakable kind of Satisfaction, and cannot forbear wishing that my good Fortune would place me in so sweet a Retirement.

Theocritus, Virgil, and Spencer, are the only writers that seem to have hit upon the true Nature of Pastoral Poems. So that it will be Honour sufficient for me, if I have not altogether failed in my intent.”

Ambrose Philips, Pastorals, (London: H. Hills, 1710), p.2.

Thursday, 5th November, 2009


A glimpse of pastoral life, a glimpse of any particular quantity – in Crabbe’s artistic terms, a glimpse of any “tale” – encourages a normally functioning, supposedly “properly functioning” mind to build up notions about the essential nature of things, to come away with the belief that something essential has been learned from experience. But in Crabbe’s world, if you’ve seen one tulip, you’ve only seen one tulip. One tale encourages formulation of one set of notions; another tale, another set. Were Crabbe to have written an imitation of Rasselas in accordance with his own late vision, he would have given us only Rasselas experiencing his negative glimpse of pastoral life but also a second hero experiencing an antithetical, positive glimpse of pastoral life; and he would then have allowed both to continue on their separate journeys, each confidently believing he understood Patoral-ness. Each man lives his own, single tale in life; thus he generates his own “essences” and dreams he has found or is now finding stability – until time’s whirligig snaps his head back. In Crabbe, then, we learn to fear not the loss of reason but the reasoning process itself, because it leads a Rasselas (and, behind him, a Johnson) to believe he can understand the Tulip-ness of things. Crabbe’s rewriting of Johnson would, therefore, alter the Johnsonian postulate, substituting: “Of all the uncertainties of our present state, the most dreadful and alarming is the belief we can reason our way out of some uncertainties.”

L.J. Swingle, ‘Late Crabbe in Relation to the Augustans and Romantics: The Temporal Labyrinth of his tales in Verse, 1812’, in ELH, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Winter, 1975), p.591.

Monday, 17th August, 2009


“[…] while the subject thus offers itself I will hear briefly of that shame which people are so apt to have for their religious affections. This is so visible that I believe scarcely anybody ventures to discourse on the solemn truth of religion in common conversation, or to mention such terms as heaven and hell, unless to utter an unmeaning curse, or a complaint that blasphemes. If a man appears really struck with the concerns of another world and manifests them by his conduct and conversation, he is generally thought melancholy or mad. I do not say that an ostentation in religious deportment is a disagreeable thing! But because this is a fault, is indifference a merit? Am I to be ashamed of a good cause, tho’ another thing, because another brings disgrace on it? himself by it? who refuses a post of honour chiefly because its last proprietor was a disgrace to it? and is not Christianity an honour? Shame on the man who thinks it is not. The truth is, our hearts are cold. We do not feel the love of God in them and therefore we are both careless and ashamed. We are caught out of countenance by those who are indifferent and kept in awe by fear of being ridiculous.”

Deleted text, MS.42083

Sunday, 12th July, 2009


from ‘The World of Dreams’

And is thy soul so wrapt in sleep?
Thy senses, thy affections, fled?
No play of fancy thine, to keep
Oblivion from that grave, thy bed?
Then art thou but the breathing dead:
I envy, but I pity too:
The bravest may my terrors dread,
The happiest fain my joys pursue.

Soon as the real World I lose,
Quick Fancy takes her wonted way,
Or Baxter’s sprites my soul abuse –
For how it is I cannot say,
Nor to what powers a passive prey,
I feel such bliss, I fear such pain;
But all is gloom, or all is gay,
Soon as th’ ideal World I gain.

Come, then, I woo thee, sacred Sleep!
Vain troubles of the world, farewell!
Spirits of Ill! your distance keep –
And in your own dominions dwell,
Ye, the sad emigrants from hell!
Watch, dear seraphic beings, round,
And these black Enemies repel;
Safe be my soul, my slumbers sound!

In vain I pray! It is my sin
That thus admits the shadowy throng.
Oh! now they break tumultuous in –
Angels of darkness fierce and strong.
Oh! I am borne of fate along;
My soul, subdued, admits the foe,
Perceives and yet endures the wrong,
Resists, and yet prepares to go.

Where am I now? and what to meet?
Where I have been entrapt before:
The wicked city’s vilest street,–
I know what I must now explore.
The dark-brow’d throng more near and more,
With murderous looks are on me thrust,
And lo! they ope the accursed door,
And I must go – I know I must!

That female fiend! – Why is she there?
Alas! I know her. – Oh, begone!
Why is that tainted bosom bare,
Why fix’d on me that eye of stone?
Why have they left us thus alone?
I saw the deed – why then appear?
Thou art not form’d of blood and bone!
Come not, dread being, come not near!

So! all is quiet, calm, serene;
I walk a noble mansion round –
From room to room, from scene to scene,
I breathless pass, in gloom profound:
No human shape, no mortal sound –
I feel an awe, I own a dread,
And still proceed! – nor stop nor bound –
And all is silent, all is dead.

Now I’m hurried, borne along,
All is business! all alive!
Heavens! how mighty is the throng,
Voices humming like a hive!
Through the swelling crowd I strive,
Bustling forth my way to trace:
Never fated to arrive
At the still-expected place.

George Crabbe, ‘The World of Dreams’ in The Complete Poetical Works, ed. by Norma Dalrymple-Champneys and Arthur Pollard, 3 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1988) III, pp.246-255.

Saturday, 11th July, 2009


The Pains of Sleep

Ere on my bed my limbs I lay,
It hath not been my use to pray
With moving lips or bended knees;
But silently, by slow degrees,
My spirit I to Love compose,
In humble trust mine eye-lids close,
With reverential resignation,
No wish conceived, no thought exprest,
Only a sense of supplication;
A sense o’er all my soul imprest
That I am weak, yet not unblest,
Since in me, round me, every where
Eternal Strength and Wisdom are.

But yester-night I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony,
Up-starting from the fiendish crowd
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me:
A lurid light, a trampling throng,
Sense of intolerable wrong,
And whom I scorned, those only strong!
Thirst of revenge, the powerless will
Still baffled, and yet burning still!
Desire with loathing strangely mixed
On wild or hateful objects fixed.
Fantastic passions! maddening brawl!
And shame and terror over all!
Deeds to be hid which were not hid,
Which all confused I could not know
Whether I suffered, or I did:
For all seemed guilt, remorse or woe,
My own or others still the same
Life-stifling fear, soul-stifling shame.

So two nights passed: the night’s dismay
Saddened and stunned the coming day.
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me
Distemper’s worst calamity.
The third night, when my own loud scream
Had waked me from the fiendish dream,
O’ercome with sufferings strange and wild,
I wept as I had been a child;
And having thus by tears subdued
My anguish to a milder mood,
Such punishments, I said, were due
To natures deepliest stained with sin,—
For aye entempesting anew
The unfathomable hell within,
The horror of their deeds to view,
To know and loathe, yet wish and do!
Such griefs with such men well agree,
But wherefore, wherefore fall on me?
To be beloved is all I need,
And whom I love, I love indeed.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Christabel; Kubla Khan: A Vision; The Pains of Sleep, (London: John Murray, 1816) pp.61-4.

Friday, 10th July, 2009


“In this agreeable interval, my wife had the most lucky dreams in the world, which she took care to tell us every morning with great solemnity and exactness. It was one night a coffin and cross bones; the sign of an approaching wedding: at another time she imagined her daughter’s pockets filled with farthings; a certain sign of their being one day stuffed with gold. The girls had their omens too: they felt strange kisses on their lips; they saw rings in the candle; purses bounced from the fire; and true love-knots lurked at the bottom of every teacup.”

Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield, 2 vols (Cork: Eugene Swiney, 1766), I, p.84.

Thursday, 9th July, 2009


“I returned late last night, and my reflections were as cheerful as such company could make them, and not, I am afraid, of the most humiliating kind; yet, for the first time these many nights, I was incommoded by dreams, such as would cure vanity for a time in any mind where they could gain admission. Some of Baxter’s mortifying spirits whispered very singular combinations. None, indeed, that actually did happen in the very worst of times, but still with a formidable resemblance. It is doubtless very proper to have the mind thus brought to a sense of its real and very possible alliances, and the evils it has encountered, or might have had; but why these images should be given at a time when the thoughts, the waking thoughts, were of so opposite a nature, I cannot account. So it was. Awake, I had been with the high, the apparently happy: we were very cheerful. Asleep, all was misery and degradation, not my own only, but of those who had been. — That horrible image of servility and baseness — that mercenary and commercial manner! It is the work of imagination, I suppose; but it is very strange. I must leave it.”

George Crabbe, journal entry of 21st July 1817, in Selected Letters and Journals of George Crabbe, ed. by Thomas C. Faulkner, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 221.

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