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

VII. George Crabbe

§ 2. The Library

The kindness of the wigmaker with whom he lodged, occasional help from Sarah Elmy’s family and the pawning of his possessions just sufficed to save Crabbe from destitution; but his condition was very bad indeed when, in something like despair, he wrote, probably in February or March, 1781, a letter to Edmund Burke. This letter, which is still extant, he left, with some specimens of his poetry in manuscript, at Burke’s house in Charles street, St. James’s. Burke granted an interview, found Crabbe to have “the mind and feelings of a gentleman,” gave him money for his immediate needs and became his patron. Among the poems then submitted by Crabbe to Burke was The Library; and this was the poem which Burke recommended for publication. First, however, it must be revised; the thoughts were often better than the verses. The revision was carried out under Burke’s eye. The Library was published by Dodsley, July 24, 1781. It did not bear any author’s name, and there is not anything in the poem itself to declare it Crabbe’s. It smacks throughout of Pope and of the poetical commonplace of the day. The author imagines himself in a library and utters his glib reflections upon the provinces of theology, history and so forth, and upon the relief from care afforded by reading. Any other of the poets of the day might have written it, and it did not advance Crabbe’s reputation.

With the next publication, the case was different. The packet left with Burke had contained portions of a poem which attempted to contrast village life, as the writer knew it, with the Arcadian life described by authors of pastorals. When completed, the poem was published as The Village. Before, however, its appearance turned the fortunes of Crabbe as poet, his fortunes as a man had already been turned through the influence of Burke. Burke invited him to stay at Beaconsfield, introduced him to his powerful friends, Fox, Reynolds, Thurlow (who presented him with £100 and forgave him an old insult), and then, finding the bent of his mind to be towards holy orders, recommended him to the bishop of Norwich, who ordained him, December, 1781, when he was all but twenty-seven years old, to the curacy of Aldeburgh. At Aldeburgh, Crabbe, as usual, was not happy. His father was proud of him; but the neighbours regarded him as an upstart. Change from one awkward situation to another came with the offer of the post of private chaplain to the duke of Rutland at Belvoir, whither Crabbe went in 1782. In spite of “the mind and feelings of a gentleman,” which Burke had found in him, there seems to have been a kind of bluntness, perhaps merely that of a strong and sincere mind (Thurlow once said that he was “as like Parson Adams as twelve to a dozen”), which unfitted him for a ducal chaplaincy; and, though the portrait of “my lord,” in The Patron, is not drawn from the duke of Rutland, who treated Crabbe with kindness and consideration, some of John’s difficulties there set out were, doubtless, borrowed from the poet’s own experience. However, he was now free from anxiety, constantly meeting people of learning and taste and blessed with plenty of leisure for his poetic work.