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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

VII. George Crabbe

§ 10. The Change in English Poetry during Crabbe’s Lifetime

Between the publication of Crabbe’s first work and of his last, a revolution had come over English poetry. He began to write in a barren time, when the power of Pope was waning, and nothing new had yet arisen to take its place. Almost contemporaneously with The Village, his first characteristic poem, appeared the first volume of Cowper. During Crabbe’s long silence, the influence of Cowper was to spread; and, by the time of Crabbe’s death, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Scott, Campbell, Byron, Shelley and Keats had done their work for English poetry. It says much for one who, though an innovator in subject, belonged to the previous age in execution, that he held his own throughout life and for some time afterward. He told the plain truth about peasants; yet he called them “swains,” as if Lyrical Ballads had never been published. Poetry took on a hundred new or revived forms; yet he clung, with very few remissions, to his couplets. In spite of all, his work was read and admired by the very men who were trying to set poetry free from the shackles in which he continued to labour. Almost alone among the voices of the new school, Hazlitt’s was raised against him; and Hazlitt’s well-known attackcan best be explained by a moment of spleen. The admiration of Wordsworth for Crabbe’s work was warm. Lyrical Ballads had not done anything to affect Crabbe’s style, and the two poets, both starting from the same point, a recognition of sympathetic interest in common life, had followed widely different paths; but, like Tennyson, at a later date, Wordsworth valued highly the independence and truth of Crabbe’s sturdy, old-fashioned poetry, and saw in it, what Hazlitt failed to see, the beauty born of poetic passion.