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

VII. George Crabbe

§ 8. Tales

Little more than two years elapsed before Crabbe published another volume of poetry, in some ways his best. Tales, issued in September, 1812, shows an advance on The Borough in the art of revealing character by narrative. Many of the twenty-one stories are constructed on the same plan—initial happiness converted gradually into misery by intellectual pride or ill-regulated passion; but the variety of the treatment and of the characters prevents monotony. And, if any one were tempted to accuse Crabbe of a lack of humour, Tales should avert such a charge. In this set of stories, more than in any other, he exhibits a humour, bitter, no doubt, but profound, searching and woven into the very stuff of the tale. The Gentleman Farmer, with its exposition of the daring free-thinker enslaved in three different kinds of bondage—to a woman, a quack doctor and an ostler turned preacher; The Patron, with its picture of the noble family’s reception of their poet-protégé’s death; the masterly comedy of the wooing of a worldling and a puritan in The Frank Courtship—these and several others show Crabbe in complete control of his material, and exercising upon it more of the poet’s (or, rather, perhaps, of the novelist’s) intellectual and emotional labour than he usually bestowed upon the fruits of his observation. Two of the tales have extraneous interests. Tennyson knew and admired Crabbe’s poems, and may have made use in Enoch Arden of his recollections of The Parting Hour; and Charles Lamb founded on The Confidant a comedy called The Wife’s Trial, which, in turn, gave Maria Edgeworth an idea for Helen.