David Nokes

Only Opium Could Make Him Charming

George Crabbe: An English Life 1754 -1832

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IN 1818 GEORGE Crabbe was offered £3,000 by the publisher John Murray for his new poems, Tales of the Hall. Even today a poet would need quite a reputation to command that sort of massive sum. Six years earlier Jane Austen had gloated over the £140 that Sense and Sensibility earned, which only made her ‘long for more’. Austen amused members of her family by stating that ‘if she married at all, she could fancy being Mrs Crabbe’. This was her little joke, a fantasy about a man she’d never met, though she appeared rather put out when she learned the post was already filled. Crabbe’s friend and amateur literary agent Samuel Rogers was silenced by the size of Murray’s offer, three times more than anyone else was prepared to bid, and Crabbe agreed to the deal. The poems were published and promptly flopped, leaving John Murray almost £2,500 out of pocket. At the time the British Critic declared Crabbe’s versification ‘the most untunable in our language’; fifty years ago Leavis delivered a final verdict, dismissing Crabbe as ‘hardly at the fine point of consciousness in his time’.

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