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This article is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

George Crabbe: A Stranger in the City Neil Powell


Some seventeen years before George Crabbe reached London from Slaughden Quay aboard the three-masted lugger Unity, another literary young man in search of a new life made a long journey by road to the capital, arriving on a cold Friday in November 1762. Like Crabbe, he had been to London before, but he too regarded this extended visit as his crucially self-defining experience. `When we came upon Highgate hill and had a view of London, I was all life and joy,' he wrote. `I repeated Cato's soliloquy on the immortality of the soul, and my soul bounded forth to a certain prospect of happy futurity.' His name was James Boswell.

Crabbe may not have been quite so jauntily confident the Saltmaster's son from Aldeburgh could not yet aspire to the social circles which were open to the Judge's son from Edinburgh - but he was optimistic enough. And there were other striking parallels between them. Both were short of money, attempted financial prudence, overspent, and experienced real hardship; both were to learn, by trial and error, the necessity of bribing servants to obtain access to influential people; both were to have dealings with the same publisher, the younger of the two Dodsley brothers. We know all this because both of them kept journals. Boswell's London Journal - an exuberant, self-regarding and somewhat untrustworthy affair - is, however, very different from Crabbe's, not least in its fondness for laddish pranks and rakish sexual adventures. The ...

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