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This review is taken from PN Review 161, Volume 31 Number 3, January - February 2005.

SOUR FRUIT OR CRUSTY FISH NEIL POWELL, George Crabbe: An English Life 1754-1832 (Pimlico) £12.50

Writers are usually the people best qualified to write of other writers, and this book is a very good, indeed a magnificent, example. One of Crabbe's 'most devoted readers' was Sir Walter Scott: Neil Powell goes even further, seeing between them 'an almost telepathic affinity'. He adds: 'They were unified by being the kind of writers they were - storyteller poets whose tastes had been shaped by wide but haphazard reading - [and]... by what they were not: they were not Wordsworth and Coleridge'. At a stroke Powell clears the way to where the poet Crabbe stood in relation to some of his celebrated contemporaries. Both Crabbe and Scott were the subject of remarkable biographies: Scott's by his son-in-law, J.G. Lockhart, was compared by Leslie Stephen, in the DNB, with Boswell; Crabbe's was by his son, who was another Rev George Crabbe.

Crabbe's Life by his son has, until the appearance of this new biography, had the advantage over all-comers. It was at first contained within Volume 1 of the eight-volume edition of Crabbe's works published by John Murray in 1834. In 1934, its centenary year, it was re-published in that pocket-sized and deeply-missed 'World's Classics' edition of the OUP, and introduced by E.M. Forster. Unluckily, Murray saddled George Crabbe the biographer with Lockhart, who 'altered dates and tampered with the text of Crabbe's letters': that seems to have been corrected. Forster liked the intimacy and simplicity of the son's Life of his father, the poet; ...


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