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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

§ 9. Tales of the Hall

After Tales, Crabbe did not publish anything more for seven years. He was now a poet of wide reputation, and was welcomed by Rogers, Campbell and others on the visits to London which his wife’s death in 1813 set him free to pay. In the spring of 1814, he was appointed to the cure of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, where he was within reach of William Lisle Bowles, of Lord Bath and of the interesting people who lived in Bath or came there to take the waters. He appears to have worked meanwhile, with the regularity of an Anthony Trollope, at his poetry; and the results of this manner of work may be detected in his next volume, Tales of the Hall, published in July, 1819. He had always been a careless or a wilful workman. Left to himself, and more careless than ever, now that his fame was established and his age advanced, he indulged more freely than before in unnecessary detail, in sentences distorted for the sake of a rime, in flatness approaching doggerel, in verbosity and antithesis. Some of his critics, among them Jeffrey, had complained of the lack of connection between the stories in his earlier volumes. The objection seems trivial; and, in Tales of the Hall, Crabbe’s device of making brothers who are scarcely acquainted with one another exchange stories seems futile, when all these stories clearly bear the impress of a single mind. As usual, Crabbe took most of his material from people and events he had observed, or from true stories related to him; and one very interesting passage in Tales of the Hall appears to be a portrait of himself. The time had gone by when Crabbe could justly be accused, as he had been by Jeffrey, of “disgusting representations.” Smugglers and Poachers in Tales of the Hall is a terrible story; but, in most of these poems, as in Tales, Crabbe is dealing with people of a higher social grade than his early models. Though most of the stories are sad, there is less scope for brutality, and more for minute and sympathetic study of the finer shades of thought and temper. The Widow is a fine piece of high comedy; the twice-widowed lady’s letter to her third suitor is shrewdly ironical; while a passage in Delay has Danger, describing a peevish wife, is, perhaps, the best example that could be chosen of the sharp and vivid effect to which Crabbe could attain by his epigrammatic, antithetic manner.

Tales of the Hall was the last volume of poems by Crabbe published in his lifetime. At Trowbridge, he lived in comfort, winning, by degrees, the esteem of his parishioners (a tribute which, in other cures, he had not wholly gained), working hard at poetry and paying visits to his friends. At the house of the Hoares in Hampstead, he met Wordsworth, Southey, Rogers, Joanna Baillie and others; and he paid a memorable visit to Scott in Edinburgh. He died at Trowbridge, in February, 1832. At his death, many volumes of poetry in manuscript were found in his house, and selections from these were printed in the collected edition of his works, edited by his son, George Crabbe, which was published in 1834. They include one delightful tale, Silford Hall; or, The Happy Day, which describes the visit of a poor boy to a great house over which he is shown by the housekeeper; and one shrewd piece of comedy, The Equal Marriage, in which a male and a female coquette marry to their joint discomfort. The Farewell and Return is a series of short poems describing the fortunes of a man’s acquaintances before and after his long absence from his native town. They contain some admirable work, such as the poem called The Ancient Mansion, which tells how the local great house had been bought and spoiled by a newcomer. But, in reading these posthumous tales, it is just to remember that they had not been finally passed for the press by the author, whose reputation they do little to enhance. The lyric was not his best means of expression, and he used it rarely; but the quatrain, His Mother’s Wedding-Ring, shows a beautifully turned thought, and the short poem on his dead wife, Parham Revisited, is simple and passionate. The unpublished poems by Crabbe, collected from manuscripts in the possession of the university of Cambridge and printed in the Cambridge English Classics edition of his works, include other examples of his work in lyric poetry.