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trained by their long intercourse with reality and by their direct struggle with the powers of nature. And he rejects more than any poet of the new time all the traditional methods of looking at man and his surroundings; he will have no illusions, no poetical glamour, such as even Goldsmith continued to throw around the peasant; the coarsest detail is as worthy of record and as true poetry as the greatest tragedy or deepest pathos. And it was this intrusion of the painful realities of provincial life upon the notice of the governing classes and of culture that formed the essence of English revolutionism in last century; conservative in all his feelings, unconscious of all the new movements, and completely eighteenth century in the performance of his clerical duties though he was, he did more than any literary man of his time for the new philanthropy, the revolt of England against old abuses, the return to nature. His faithful yet tragic pictures of the sorrows and wrongs of the provincial poor were worth a generation of blue-books and commissions.
3. In this, his first published poem, "Inebriety", he anticipates the best that has been said by temperance orators in the century between ; and, more than a generation before the total abstinence movement began, in the very midst of the customs he paints, he describes their horrors with more tragic and humourous power than Gough. His pictures of the merry toper in the alehouse must have been studied by Burns for Tam o' Shanter;
"O'er the dull embers happy Colin sits,
Colin, the prince of joke and rural wits;
Whilst the wind whistles through the hollow panes,
He drinks, nor of the rude assault complains;
And tells the tale from sire to son retold
Of spirits vanishing near hidden gold”.
The picture of the return of the jovial savage to his home, and of the after effects
("Intoxication flies as fury fled;
On rooky pinions quits the aching head ".),
the portrait of the
"Easy chaplain of an atheist lord",
that of Fabricio who
"Hates the bottle, yet but thinks it right
To boast next day the honours of the night",
and that of the drinking vicar,
"Whose various texts excite a loud applause
Favouring the bottle and the good old cause",
are all Dutch in their minute fidelity to eighteenth century fact. There is no mistaking the individuality of the portraits or the widespread mischief of the custom.
"Sots in embroidery and sots in crape
Of every order, station, rank, and shape ",
from "The king who nods upon his rattle throne", staggering peer", and "slow-tongued bishop" to "the humble pensioner and gownsman dry". And through it all runs a horror of the atheism and irreligion that were still fashionable in higher circles. He is quite pleased with the ale-drinking of the rustics who do not
"In the pride of reason curse their God","
"The jest profane that mocks the offended God",
'Rather than hear his God blasphemed, he takes
Whilst bishops may be damned the nearest way". There is a flavour of Hudibras in the satire. Nor do any of his later poems approach it in striving after epigram. The pseudo-classicism of the Queen Anne age appears in his adopting classical names for types, Curio, Flaminius, Milo, in his speaking of the morn as Lucina, and in addressing his muse. The influence of the new time makes him introduce a picture of winter in the second paragraph; his own lack of taste makes it stiff and artificial.
4. His next poem, The Candidate, was the first effort in London to test the opinion of the greater world of letters. He had given up the medical profession and determined to embark on the sea of literature. He sent it in 1780 to The Monthly Review with an introduction, and a prose address "to the reader". He says it is "addressed to the authors
of the Monthly Review, as to critics of acknowledged merit". It deserved the neglect it met. For, unlike his first, there are only poor echoes of Pope in it; it is full of personified abstractions, contains one of the feeblest and most transparent of allegorical dreams and has perpetual reference to his muses. And its whole purport is to express his ambition to be a poet, with the fear of "relentless critics and avenging wits" before his eyes. The only trace of his own individuality is in his resolve not to sing of kings and heroes but of Mira the name under which he addressed his future wife Miss Sarah Elmy.
5. In spite of the objection to patronage expressed in it, he was driven at last to try this old-fashioned refuge of the poet. He appealed to various noblemen without success; and at last in despair wrote to Burke. The struggling orator took the struggling poet into his house, and thence was issued The Library in June 1781. It is a thoroughly conventional poem of the school of Pope; the whole structure, the episodes, and even the lines are modelled on the Queen Anne poets. The only difference is in the subject and its treatment. All the didactic poems of the beginning of the century took the form of "arts", "Art of Criticism", "Art of Translation"; and these allowed of much smart satire on contemporary literature. After the death of Pope poetic didacticism became more prosaic; it chose subjects that admitted only of classificatory or philosophical treatment, The Pleasures of the Imagination, The Fleece, The Sugar Cane. The only relief to their dulness was the chance of picturesque description. Library belongs to this type. It is irremediably dull. It describes the advantage of books, the arrangement of them in a library, the bindings, the various classes-divinity, philosophy, medicine, law, history, drama, romance, criticism. There is no opportunity for the picture or the portrait. The only breaks in the current of commonplace are the debate between a Rousseau-like poet who believes in a primitive age of happiness and the representative of common-sense and the philosophy of law, who is evidently Blackstone, the satiric picture of a typical scene of romance -the captive queen-and the conventional vision of the
genius of the library at the close. The theme itself shows how common a feature of life libraries were becoming and the growth of publication in numbers ("E'en light Voltaire is numbered through the town.") Its treatment shows that he was about to abandon medicine for divinity. ("Buried in dust and lost in silence dwell;
Most potent, grave, and reverend friends-farewell.") His reference to the Duke of Rutland towards the end shows that he already had prospect of the chaplaincy which he afterwards obtained. He was licensed in August 1782, became curate of his native village of Aldborough, then domestic chaplain at Belvoir Castle; married in 1783 and took the rectorship of Strathern; passed from rectorship to rectorship till he finally settled at Trowbridge in 1813, where he died in 1832.
6. It was under the influence of Burke that he turned to his natural themes and sources of inspiration. Helped by the new patronage, his poem was welcomed by the critics, in spite of its dulness, and he gained confidence to describe what he knew and loved. He abandoned the guidance of Pope and the didactic school, and accepted Goldsmith again as his model. The Village, published in 1783, showed to the London world, as Inebriety might have done, if it had been read, that a new spirit had come into poetry, the spirit of realism. From its instant and great popularity, novelists, as well as poets, took heart of grace to look at nature and human nature through their own eyes and to give up the old medium of conventionalities and the new medium of sentiment. At the time of its publication, Burns was already in his twenty-fourth year and writing those lyrics and poems that were in 1786 and 1787 to astonish Scotland. Pope had somewhat tainted his peasant ambitions to paint the life around him; The Village made him stand by the natural expression of all the joys and sorrows, the sordidness as well as the nobility of rustic toil. Without Crabbe's rejection of the romance and sentiment, with which Goldsmith had misted over the life of the peasant, Burns might have maimed his faculty of seeing imaginatively the reality around him, and preferred to express second-hand sublimities in stilted verse.
7. There is in this poem wholesome, almost scientific, power of observing the world in all the nakedness of its struggle for existence. The poet has his Deserted Village at his elbow as he writes it, we can see; and he deliberately paints out all the rose colour, and leaves nothing but stern fact seen by a true, and not romantic, pessimist. He will have nothing to do with the unrealities of the pastoral, but give "the real pictures of the poor." It is his first master, Pope, that he is thinking of, when he refuses to give "Mechanic echoes of the Mantuan song ";
from truth and nature he will not "widely stray," as Virgil and his imitators did. He gives an often-quoted picture of the Suffolk coast,
"Where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er,
Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor,"
"Poppies nodding mock the hope of toil."
He describes the poverty-stricken village with its "wild amphibious race," who
"scowl at strangers with suspicious eye."
"Where are the swains who, daily labour done,
With rural games played down the setting sun?"
For Goldsmith's romantic picture he substitutes the smugglers running their pinnace on shore; for the simple life he finds “rapine, wrong and fear," and "a bold, artful, surly, savage race"; no "plenty smiles"; but a famished land," is ever lessened by the greedy waves ; instead of the singing swain returning in the twilight, he has a portrait of the consumptive husband "contending with weakness, weariness, and shame "; instead of "rural ease" and a peaceful contented old age, he has the broken-down peasant "journeying to his grave in pain," goaded on by the disdain of all, weeping "beneath the hillock," and burying his white locks. in the snow as he tends the sheep; instead of the cottage of the respected sage of Auburn, resting at times in the alehouse or the church, loved by all, he gives us his famous picture of the workhouse,
"Whose walls of mud scarce bear the broken door,"
the only home of
"The lame, the blind, and far the happiest they !