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parts of the drama which ought to be awfully sublime, are occasionally overdriven into the precincts of the horrible. In this catalogue of the imperfections of genius, we should disappoint the mean malignant stare of miss Baillie's emulous contemporaries, (rivals she has none,) did we not mention her comedics the common resort of critical malevolence, when the force of truth has wrung forth a tardy and reluctant assent to her tragic supereminence:- What say you to her comedies? Such is the triumphant question to which we beg leave cooly and briefly to reply-that we think they are not comedies at all; but that if the sapient interrogators had read them with another name prefixed, they would, like us, have esteemed them good dramatic dialogues, containing some very pathetic passages, and striking delineations of character, though devoid of the stage effect, of the humour, of the comic language, and of the combination of incident, indispensible to performances intended for the stage. Having thus sacrificed to that weakness of human nature which cannot endure the unqualified praise of a contemporary, we can1100 join in the other popular objections founded upon miss Baillie's plan of illustrating a single passion in the course of each drama. It is no doubt attended with its own peculiar difficulties, especially when the passion described is of slow growth, and such as only gradually usurps its predominance over the mind. In this case, the author is reduced to a dilemma, because if she presents at once in full tide the passion of which she has not time to trace the fountain, its violence is likely, as in the plot of De Montfort, to stagger the faith of those who are either unable or unwilling to comprehend what is not explained to them in particular detail: or if, as in Ethwald, the progress of the passion is dramatically traced from its first breaking forth, to its acquiring universal empire over the character, it is impossible to avoid gross trespasses upon the unities of time and place, and the work must necessarily become rather a dramatic chronicle than a tragedy. But these difficulties are counterbalanced by this great and important advantage, that the mind of the author, of the reader, and of the spectator, is arrested during the whole course of the piece by one strong and overmastering interest, and that not arising from an artfully conducted chain of
incident, but drawn from a display of the deepest recesses of the human heart. The interest thus imparted, is of a kind far more vivid at the time, and more important on reflection, than that which depends upon the trick of the scene, or the artful opposition of characters in contrast to each other, or even than that excited by striking situation. Why is it that at a leisure moment we find a volume of Shakspeare more frequently in our hands than any other book, unless because he considered every part of the drama as subordinate to the display of passion and of character. It is to such a display, that the plan so daringly adopted by miss Baillie, necessarily pledges her to the reader, and though we may rejoice were its execution capable of being united with every other requisite to a perfect drama, we cannot wish it should be sacrificed to the attainment of any or of all of them.
Miss Baillie's language is well calculated to support the strength and grandeur of her sentiments. It is formed upon the model of the old dramatic blank verse, with somewhat too strong an affectation of the antique. It is sometimes, as in the opening scene of Ethwald, beautifully poetical; but these ornaments are never misplaced, when the feeling demands bold and energetic expression of passion. We might speak of the art with which miss Baillie varies her subordinate personages, giving even to the less important such a peculiarity of language and of sentiment, as marks individuality of character. It is this art which renders the scene a mirror to nature; whose character, in manners and mind, as in the exterior points of countenance and figure, is discriminated by their endless variety. Many of those touches, though thrown in slightly, serve, like figures in the distance, to heighten the interest, and add to the reality of the whole action. The brutal Woggarwolf, in the tragedy of Ethwald, is an admirable example of this nice conduct. He is presented to us as a relentless and merciless marauder, yet with a touch of nature worthy of Shakspeare, his first exclamation, when he hears of his castle being taken, expresses apprehension for the safety of a favourite page. The gifted author well knew that the wildest characters retain, for some fondled object, a hidden reserve of blind and animal affection. In like manner,
the operation of superstition upon the mind of this bandit when wounded, and the last glimpse which we are afforded of him Heading a monastic procession, as
Sainted Woggarwolf once a fierce chief,
give a variety, and, at the same, an effect and keeping to the picture which we can always trace in even the slightest of miss Baillie's sketches. We could with pleasure pursue this theme much further, but our task presses, and we take a reluctant leare of this interesting subject.
In comedy, the present time has nothing to boasts and in satire very nearly as little. Some miserable attempts have been made by nameless authors, in volumes equally nameless, to distinguish themselves by sounding the rusty trump of personal scandal; but we have seen nothing which merits the generous though severe title of satire. Huddesford, who possessed some humour and power of verse, has not fulfilled the promise of his earlier poems. Gifford, to whose talents we might look for wielding the moral scourge with power and discrimination, has long slumbered over his harp; nor is there a name in Britain which we can couple with his in the department of satirical poetry.
The works of CRABBE, are, however, in some measure allied to satire, though not falling strictly under that name. This dis tinguished and powerful writer has traced for bimself a path, which is, to the best of our knowledge, new in poetry. He has assumed for his subject, the middling and lower ranks of life; their ordinary pursuits, pleasures, cares, rices and sorrows. These he has depicted alternately with deep pathos, strong humour, and masculine morality. He has laid aside the Mincian and Arcadian reed, and, assuming for his guide Truth, not merely unadorned, but under her harshest aspect, he has even avoided drawing such pleasing pictures of low life, as he might easily have found originals for without violation of nature. Perhaps we judge incorrectly of the peasantry of England, from those with whose state and manners we have an opportunity to be intimately acquainted. But whatever vice and misery may
be found in large manufacturing towns, or in smuggling villages, where the habitual and professional breach of one class of laws brings all others into contempt, and where the very staple of their traffic is the source of idleness, poverty, and vice, we are confident that Mr. Crabbe has used too dark colouring, if his poem is to be considered as a general portrait of the people of Britain. It forms, at least, a very singular contrast to the amiable, simple, and interesting scenes of lower life, which have been presented to us by the regretted Burns. But although strongly opposite in style, manner, and subject, as the groups of Gainsborough to those of Hogarth, we acknowledge in each the masterly hand which designs from nature. Indeed the resemblance between Hogarth and Crabbe has very often appeared to us extremely striking. Both have laid their scenes in the regions of low and vulgar life; both have presented their subjects with the squalid and disgusting accompaniments which too often attend them in sad reality. But the want of taste which does not withdraw 'from our view even the most unpleasing of these circumstances, is amply compensated both in the poet and painter, by the reality given to the picture; by the fund of humour employed in bringing out the comic scenes; by the power and vigour which are displayed in its more serious parts; above all, by the pleasing display of genius armed in behalf of virtue and of moral feeling. Even the defects of the painter and the poet resemble each other: There is in both a want of grace, though no deficiency in pathetic effect; and the scrious and ludricous are sometimes so closely united, as to mar the effect of each. But Hogarth was deficient in sublimity as well as in beauty, and so is not the poet to whom we have compared him. On the contrary, the dark and sublime conceptions of the visions of “Sir Eustace Grey," and the incidents in the tale entitled “The Hall of Justice,” trench upon the horrible; and, far from falling short in effect, are almost too powerful for perusal. The same sombre pencil which deepens the gloom and misery attached to poverty and ignorance, has, in these tales, worked upon subjects of more exalted passion, and we behold its pro. ductions with interest of that deep and painful kind arising from the narration of a crime of enormous degree, or the sight
of the execution of an atrocious criminal, when grief and pity struggle with the feelings of horror and disgust. The former feelings are excited by the tragic power of the poet, the latter by the readiness with which he exhibits in the lowest deep a lower still, by the addition of the horror of incestuous passion, or some similar aggravating enormity, to the viccs and misfortunes which his verse details.
In his style, Crabbe somewhat resembles Cowper; his versification being careless and harsh, and his language marked by a quaint and antithetical turn of expression, sometimes humourous, and sometimes substituted in the room of humour. Both poets were perhaps indebted to Oldham's satires for these peculiarities, at least, as Dryden said of him, they want
- the numbers of their native tongue:
It may be farther observed, that the labour which Mr. Crabbe has bestowed upon his characters, and the laudable pains which he takes to invest them with all their peculiar attributes, is in some few instances heavy and tedious, where the subject either excites little interest, or an interest which is not likely to be generally felt. Such heaviness attaches especially, to those passages which refer to the clerical profession, and circumstances connected with its exercise. On these Mr. Crabbe is very naturally more minute and particular than can be interesting to the great mass of his readers. But his roughness of style, and occasional prolixity, even his coarseness and want of taste, are trifles in the balance compared to his merits. Mr. Crabbe is an original poet, he is sui generis,--and in these few words we comprehend a greater praise than can be conferred upon almost any of his contemporaries.
We should now mention the translator of Anacreon, but we are rather willing to withhold the tribute which we should have offered his genius, than to present it accompanied with our severest censure of the manner in which it has been too frequently employed. We have heard, and we believe, that Mr. MOORE is