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

VII. George Crabbe

§ 7. The Borough

Crabbe’s next publication was The Borough, a poem in twenty-four parts or “letters,” published in April, 1810. Like The Village and The Parish Register, it describes life and character as the poet had seen them in Aldeburgh. Yet, not in Aldeburgh only; for this borough might, to some extent, stand for any country town of moderate size. In a series of letters to a correspondent, the author gives an account of the town, the church, the religious bodies, the politics, professions, amusements, the workhouse, the poor, the prisons, the schools and many other features of the town’s life. As the work is much longer than its predecessors, so it shows an increase in Crabbe’s scope and power. There was no one now to revise his writings; and The Borough remains a very uneven work, both in matter and in versification; yet, Crabbe, who had spent eight years upon the poem, was not then so indifferent to craftsmanship as he became later. Parts of The Borough are very dull; excess of detail makes other parts tedious; and there is much clumsiness and flatness of expression. Nevertheless, The Borough contains some of Crabbe’s finest work, and shows an advance in his power of divining motive and depicting character. The portraits of the clergy and the ministers, and of the inhabitants of the almshouses, show rare penetration and vigour in description; and, if Crabbe found himself unable to construct in verse, or in prose, a novel in which the characters should act and react upon each other, he remains a master of the individual portrait. For poignancy and poetic beauty, nothing in all his work, perhaps, equals the description of the condemned felon’s dream of his youth at home.