The Village Essay - Critical Essays

George Crabbe

Critical Evaluation

Although George Crabbe’s poem, THE VILLAGE, contains two books, the anthologists have been largely justified in printing Book I as a separate poem. This book is in part a bitter answer to Oliver Goldsmith’s sentimental picture of rural life in THE DESERTED VILLAGE: “I paint the cot/ As Truth will paint it, and as Bards will not.” Book II continues the theme of the first book for over a hundred lines, then turns into a memorial eulogy of Lord Robert Manners, the brother of Crabbe’s patron, the Duke of Rutland.

Crabbe’s long life spanned the periods of eighteenth-century classicism and nineteenth-century romanticism, and his work contains elements of both schools. His friends included Samuel Johnson among the earlier poets and Sir Walter Scott among the later. Johnson “corrected” some of Crabbe’s poetry and, according to Boswell, revised lines 15-20 of THE VILLAGE:

On Mincio’s banks, in Caesar’s bounteousreign,If Tityrus found the Golden Age again,Must sleepy bards the flattering dreamprolong,Mechanic echoes of the Mantuan song?From Truth and Nature shall we widelystray,Where Virgin, not where Fancy, leads theway?

These lines do have a Johnsonian flavor; and although they fit into the structure of the poem, they are not entirely typical of Crabbe. Francis Jeffrey, one of Crabbe’s admiring later contemporaries, wrote: “The scope of the poem is to show that the villagers of real life have no resemblance to the villagers of poetry; that poverty, in sober truth, is very uncomfortable; and vice by no means confined to the opulent.”

Jeffrey set the tone for much subsequent...

(The entire section is 818 words.)