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THERE IS MOST SYMPATHY WITH HUMBLE LIFE. 299
the marvels by which it is sometimes surrounded, serve no other purpose than to fix our attention on those workings of the heart, and those energies of the understanding, which alone command all the genuine smpathies of human beings-and which may be found as abundantly in the breasts of cottagers as of kings. Wherever there are human beings, therefore, with feelings and characters to be represented, our attention may be fixed by the art of the poet-by his judicious selection of circumstances-by the force and vivacity of his style, and the clearness and brevity of his representations.
In point of fact, we are all touched more deeply, as well as more frequently, in real life, with the sufferings of peasants than of princes; and sympathise much oftener, and more heartily, with the successes of the poor, than of the rich and distinguished. The occasions of such feelings are indeed so many, and so common, that they do not often leave any very permanent traces behind them, but pass away, and are effaced by the very rapidity of their succession. The business and the cares, and the pride of the world, obstruct the development of the emotions to which they would naturally give rise; and press so close and thick upon the mind, as to shut it, at most seasons, against the reflections that are perpetually seeking for admission. When we have leisure, however, to look quietly into our hearts, we shall find in them an infinite multitude of little fragments of sympathy with our brethren in humble life-abortive movements of compassion, and embryos of kindness and concern, which had once fairly begun to live and germinate within them, though withered and broken off by the selfish bustle and fever of our daily occupations. Now, all these may be revived and carried on to maturity by the art of the poet;-and, therefore, a powerful effort to interest us in the feelings of the humble and obscure, will usually call forth more deep, more numerous, and more permanent emotions, than can ever be excited by the fate of princesses and heroes. Independent of the circumstances to which we have already alluded, there are causes which make us at all
MOST SYMPATHY WITH LEAST ALLOY.
times more ready to enter into the feelings of the humble, than of the exalted part of our species. Our sympathy with their enjoyments is enhanced by a cer tain mixture of pity for their general condition, which, by purifying it from that taint of envy which almost always adheres to our admiration of the great, renders it more welcome and satisfactory to our bosoms; while our concern for their sufferings is at once softened and endeared to us, by the recollection of our own exemption from them, and by the feeling, that we frequently have it in our power to relieve them.
From these, and from other causes, it appears to us to be certain, that where subjects, taken from humble life, can be made sufficiently interesting to overcome the distaste and the prejudices with which the usages of polished society too generally lead us to regard them, the interest which they excite will commonly be more profound and more lasting than any that can be raised upon loftier themes; and the poet of the Village and the Borough be oftener, and longer read, than the poet of the Court or the Camp. The most popular passages of Shakespeare and Cowper, we think, are of this description: and there is much, both in the volume before us, and in Mr. Crabbe's former publications, to which we might now venture to refer, as proofs of the same doctrine. When such representations have once made an impression on the imagination, they are remembered daily, and for ever. We can neither look around, nor within us, without being reminded of their truth and their importance; and, while the more brilliant effusions of romantic fancy are recalled only at long intervals, and in rare situations, we feel that we cannot walk a step from our own doors, nor cast a glance back on our departed years, without being indebted to the poet of vulgar life for some striking image or touching reflec tion, of which the occasions were always before us, but till he taught us how to improve them—were almost always allowed to escape.
Such, we conceive, are some of the advantages of the subjects which Mr. Crabbe has in a great measure intro
DISADVANTAGES OF HIS SUBJECTS. 301
duced into modern poetry; and such the grounds upon which we venture to predict the durability of the reputation which he is in the course of acquiring. That they have their disadvantages also, is obvious; and it is no less obvious, that it is to these we must ascribe the greater part of the faults and deformities with which this author is fairly chargeable. The two great errors into which he has fallen, are- that he has described many things not worth describing; - and that he has frequently excited disgust, instead of pity or indignation, in the breasts of his readers. These faults are obvious—and, we believe, are popularly laid to his charge: Yet there is, in so far as we have observed, a degree of misconception as to the true grounds and limits of the charge, which we think it worth while to take this opportunity of correcting.
The poet of humble life must describe a great dealand must even describe, minutely, many things which possess in themselves no beauty or grandeur. reader's fancy must be awaked-and the power of his own pencil displayed: - a distinct locality and imaginary reality must be given to his characters and agents: and the ground colour of their common condition must be laid in, before his peculiar and selected groups can be presented with any effect or advantage. In the same way, he must study characters with a minute and anatomical precision; and must make both himself and his readers familiar with the ordinary traits and general family features of the beings among whom they are to move, before they can either understand, or take much interest in the individuals who are to engross their attion. Thus far, there is no excess or unnecessary minuteness. But this faculty of observation, and this power of description, hold out great temptations to go further. There is a pride and a delight in the exercise of all peculiar power; and the poet, who has learned to describe external objects exquisitely, with a view to heighten the effect of his moral designs, and to draw characters with accuracy, to help forward the interest or the pathos of the picture, will be in great danger of describing scenes, and drawing characters, for no other
RISK OF EXCITING DISGUST.
purpose, but to indulge his taste, and to display his talents, It cannot be denied, we think, that Mr. Crabbe has, on many occasions, yielded to this temptation. He is led away, every now and then, by his lively conception of external objects, and by his nice and sagacious observation of human character; and wantons and luxuriates in descriptions and moral portrait painting, while his readers are left to wonder to what end so much industry has been exerted.
His chief fault, however, is his frequent lapse into disgusting representations; and this, we will confess, is an error for which we find it far more difficult either to account or to apologise. We are not, however, of the opinion which we have often heard stated, that he has represented human nature under too unfavourable an aspect; or that the distaste which his poetry sometimes produces, is owing merely to the painful nature of the scenes and subjects with which it abounds. On the contrary, we think he has given a juster, as well as a more striking picture, of the true character and situation of the lower orders of this country, than any other writer, whether in verse or in prose; and that he has made no more use of painful emotions than was necessary to the production of a pathetic effect.
All powerful and pathetic poetry, it is obvious, abounds in images of distress. The delight which it bestows partakes strongly of pain; and, by a sort of contradiction, which has long engaged the attention of the reflecting, the compositions that attract us most powerfully, and detain us the longest, are those that produce in us most of the effects of actual suffering and wretchedness. 1 The solution of this paradox is to be found, we think, in the simple fact, that pain is a far stronger sensation than pleasure, in human existence; and that the cardinal virtue of all things that are intended to delight the mind, is to produce a strong sensation. Life itself appears to consist in sensation; and the universal passion of all beings that have life, seems to be, that they should be made intensely conscious of it, by a succession of powerful and engrossing emotions. All the mere grati fications or natural pleasures that are in the power even
UNIVERSAL THIRST FOR STRONG SENSATIONS:
of the most fortunate, are quite insufficient to fill this vast craving for sensation: And accordingly we see every day, that a more violent stimulus is sought for by those who have attained the vulgar heights of life, in the pains and dangers of war-the agonies of gaming-or the feverish toils of ambition. To those who have tasted of those potent cups, where the bitter, however, so obviously predominates, the security, the comforts, and what are called the enjoyments of common life, are intolerably insipid and disgusting. Nay, we think we have observed, that even those who, without any effort or exertion, have experienced unusual misery, frequently appear, in like manner, to acquire a sort of taste or craving for it; and come to look on the tranquillity of ordinary life with a kind of indifference not unmingled with contempt. It is certain, at least, that they dwell with most apparent satisfaction on the memory of those days, which have been marked by the deepest and most agonising sorrows; and derive a certain delight from the recollections of those overwhelming sensations which once occasioned so fierce a throb in the languishing pulse of their existence.
If any thing of this kind, however, can be traced in real life if the passion for emotion be so strong as to carry us, not in imagination, but in reality, over the rough edge of present pain -it will not be difficult to explain, why it should be so attractive in the copies and fictions of poetry. There, as in real life, the great demand is for emotion; while the pain with which it may be attended, can scarcely, by any possibility, exceed the limits of endurance. The recollection, that it is but a copy and a fiction, is quite sufficient to keep it down to a moderate temperature, and to make it welcome as the sign or the harbinger of that agitation of which the soul is avaricious. It is not, then, from any peculiar quality in painful emotions that they become capable of affording the delight which attends them in tragic or pathetic poetry but merely from the circumstance of their being more intense and powerful than any other emotions of which the mind is susceptible. If it was the constitution of our nature to feel joy as keenly, or to