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Senate House Library

George Crabbe

Sir Louis Sterling in his collection of English literature favoured books by authors he liked. The clergyman and poet George Crabbe (1754-1832) was not among them, and was not represented at all in Sterling’s collection. John Henry Pyle Pafford (1900-1996), Goldsmiths’ Librarian of the University of London 1945-1967, made good the lacuna in 1982 by giving the Sterling Library about 100 books published between 1783 and 1977 by and about Crabbe: mainly editions of Crabbe’s works, with some biography and criticism. T. Bareham and S. Gatrell used this collection for their Bibliography of George Crabbe (1978), and were unstinting in their praise, describing it in their preface as a ‘fine collection of Crabbe volumes’ and in their introductory note as a ‘great private collection’ and one of the two bases of the section of the bibliography devoted to editions of Crabbe. Within the Sterling Library, the collection of Crabbe volumes is atypical in aiming for comprehensiveness, or at least representativeness, rather than focussing on first and fine editions.

The Library: A Poem
George Crabbe
London: J. Dodsley, 1781
[S.L.] I [Crabbe – 1781]

This is the earliest item by Crabbe in the Sterling Library and the only one displayed not given by J.H.P. Pafford: it was instead one of the earliest purchases for the Sterling Library, made in 1957. The poem begins by praising books generally: “they give / New views to life, and teach us how to live. … Their aid they yield to all …”. It then passes to various subjects, touring the books arranged in a library.

The Library was Crabbe’s third published poem, following Inebriety (1775) and The Candidate (1780). It was his first truly successful one, selling out in ten weeks, receiving favourable reviews, and going into a second edition (1783).  Crabbe worked on the poem from at least 1779. In 1780 he secured Edmund Burke’s patronage: Burke guided its revision and persuaded Dodsley, who had been reluctant, to publish it and to give Crabbe the profits.

George Crabbe
4th edn
London: J. Hatchard, 1809
[S.L.] I [Crabbe, G. – 1807]

Crabbe’s Poems constitutes his first publication since 1785; its appearance after thirty years of literary silence was spurred by the increasing cost of educating Crabbe’s sons. The work appeared in eight editions between 1807 and 1813, all of which Pafford possessed. The fourth edition is the first to have been published in two volumes. It is bibliographically interesting because the punctuation, especially the capitalizing of nouns, differs substantially from the third edition; the fifth edition differs again.

The Poems consist of ‘The Parish Register’, ‘Sir Eustace Grey’, some shorter poems, and reprints ‘The Village’, ‘The Library’ (revised) and ‘The News-Paper’. By far the longest is ‘The Parish Register’, in which a country clergyman reminisces on the births, marriages and deaths registered. This is also the most significant poem, revealing Crabbe’s gift for narrative and reaffirming his determination, already indicated in The Village (1783), to present reality, however sordid.

The Borough: A Poem
George Crabbe
London: C. Daly, 1839
[S.L.] I [Crabbe, G. – 1819]

The Borough was first published in 1810. The Crabbe collection contains twelve editions, including all six published during Crabbe’s lifetime, and two volumes of selections. This 32mo edition shown, a cheap edition with small print, indicates the book’s popularity. The Borough portrays the life of a country town, based on Aldeburgh in Suffolk, Crabbe’s birthplace. It is a poem in 24 “letters”. Benjamin Britten used two of its stories in his opera Peter Grimes (1945): that of Ellen Orford and of the fisherman Peter Grimes, who goes mad from remorse and guilt from having ill-treated and thereby killed his apprentices.

Life of the Rev. George Crabbe
George Crabbe
London: J. Murray, 1838
[S.L.] I [Crabbe, G. – 1834]

This biography of Crabbe was written by his son, also George Crabbe (1785-1857), at the invitation of publisher John Murray. It is the first volume of an eight-volume life and works of Crabbe, first published in 1834. The younger George Crabbe had access to his father’s notebooks and knowledge of his personality, such that his work remains the chief authority for Crabbe’s life. Its imperfections are recognized: the younger Crabbe himself made mistakes, he veiled the truth to make Crabbe appear more respectable or amiable than was the case (for example, concealing his father’s opium habit), and John Lockhart, the collaborator imposed on the biographer by John Murray, introduced errors, for example changing dates to make the narrative more dramatic and tampering with the text of letters. Nonetheless, E.M. Forster describes the biography as ‘not only readable, but [it] sometimes approaches the first rank’.

The Church Restored
London: J. Murray, 1848
[S.L.] I [Crabbe, G. – 1848]

The Church Restored is missing from Bareham and S. Gatrell’s bibliography of Crabbe. It is about the parish church of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, the rebuilding and restoration of which it describes: partly for information, partly to raise money to liquidate the debt due on the building. The book’s inclusion in the collection is owing to the fact that pp. 3-12 of the 50-page work are taken up by Crabbe’s poem ‘The Church’ (from The Borough): the first and longest of eight poems to be reproduced in the volume. The opening lines of Crabbe’s poem, asking: “What is a church?” and answering the question, are taken up in the contribution immediately following the poem, ‘Remarks on the Term Church’.

The Poetical Works of George Crabbe
George Crabbe
London: G. Routledge, [1858]
[S.L.] I [Crabbe, G. – 1858]

This is one of six editions of The Poetical Works of George Crabbe in the Crabbe collection. It is the first edition of Crabbe to have been published by Routledge, who specialized in cheap literature (evident here from the smallness of the print). This edition is part of the series ‘Routledge Red-Line Poets’, signifying that each page has a red border. The publisher’s advertisement on p. [v] begins: ‘Few poets have a stronger claim to be widely known than George Crabbe, for all he wrote had good for its basis. His poetry is healthy and fit to permeate through the hearts of a thinking people’, and ends: ‘In fact, we think it one of the strongest proofs of the advantages derived from the cheap circulation of good literature, that there is a sufficient demand for the Poems of Crabbe to induce us to publish all of them that are available in an attractive form’. Further evidence of Routledge’s esteem for Crabbe comes from the names of the other poets in the Red-Line Poets series: Byron, Scott, Milton, Goldsmith, Burns, Wordsworth and Shakespeare.

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