George Crabbe and the place of amusement

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Hazlitt’s judgement that George Crabbe was an enemy of the imagination epitomizes contemporary opinions about the lack of musing, amusement, and pleasure in Crabbe’s verse. In the Preface to Tales (1812), Crabbe effectively confirms those judgements by defending his interest in ‘the painful realities of actual existence’ rather than the ‘fairy-land’ of ‘fancy’. In his late poem, ‘Silford Hall; or, The Happy Day’ (composed c. 1822–1824), however, the struggle between matter-of-factness and reverie is less decidedly resolved than Hazlitt—and Crabbe himself—liked to suggest. Silford Hall is modelled on Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire (the home of Crabbe’s patrons, the Dukes of Rutland), a place the poet visited repeatedly—in imagination and in reality—for over five decades. Taking account of a draft ending that was detached from the main body of the poem printed in Posthumous Tales (1834), the essay traces allusions to Johnson’s Rasselas as a means of understanding Crabbe’s emphasis on dwelling, revisiting, and retrospection. It shows how those processes engender a tussle between the perspectives of enchanted youth and disillusioned age, making ‘Silford Hall’ a more complex mode of place-writing than Crabbe had attempted previously. Unseen by his critics, the poem catches Crabbe disavowing flights of imaginative fancy while acknowledging their part in the history of his poetic maturation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)746-761
Number of pages16
JournalThe Review of English Studies
Issue number311
Early online date1 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


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