Log In

George Crabbe Edit Profile

clergyman , Surgeon , poet

The English poet George Crabbe is noted for his unsentimental realism in portraying people and events and his precision in describing visible nature.


George Crabbe was born on Dec‌ember 24, 1754, in Aldeburgh, a poor fishing village in Suffolk, United Kingdom. ‌ His grandfather, Robert Crabbe, was the first of the family to settle at Aldeburgh, where he held the appointment of collector of customs. ‌ The poet's father obtained a small post in the customs of Aldeburgh, married Mary Lodwick, the widow of a publican, and had six children, of whom George was the eldest. The sea has swept away the small cottage that was George Crabbe's birthplace, but one may still visit the quay at Slaughden, some half-mile from the town, where the father worked and the son was at a later date to work with him.


Therefore when George proved to have no promise as a seaman, his father sent him to schools at Bungay and Stow Market. ‌ His father dreamt of the medical profession for his clever boy‌.

 In 1768 Crabbe was apprenticed to a surgeon. During the next years he completed his apprenticeship, studied midwifery in London, and attempted to practice in Aldeburgh. ‌


In 1771 he assisted a surgeon at Woodbridge, and it was while here that he met Sarah Elmy. The intervening years were made up of painful struggle, in which, however, not only the affection but the purse of his betrothed assisted him. About the time of Crabbe's return from Woodbridge to Aldeburgh he published at Ipswich his first work, a poem entitled Inebriety (1775). There was no money to assist him to a partnership, and surgery for the moment seemed out of the question. For a few weeks Crabbe worked as a common labourer, rolling butter casks on Slaughden quay. This was at Aldeburgh. He lodged in Whitechapel, took lessons in midwifery and walked the hospitals. Returning to Aldeburgh after nine months-in 1777-he found his practice gone. At times he suffered hunger, so utterly unable was he to earn a livelihood. After three years of this, in 1780 Crabbe paid his second visit to London, enabled thereto by the loan of five pounds from Dudley Lang, a local magnate. In his visits to London Crabbe was the guest of Samuel Rogers, in St James's Place, and was a frequent visitor to Holland House, where he met his brother poets Moore and Campbell. His poem The Candidate, issued soon after his arrival, helped not at all. For a time he almost starved, and was only saved, it is clear, by gifts of money from his sweetheart Sarah Elmy. He importuned the great, and the publishers also. Everywhere he was refused, but at length a letter which reached Edmund Burke in March 1781 led to the careful consideration on the part of that great man of Crabbe's many manuscripts. He invited him to Beaconsfield, and made interest in the right quarters to secure Crabbe's entry into the church. Shortly after this he moved with his wife from Belvoir Castle to the parsonage of Stathern, where he took the duties of the non-resident vicar Thomas Parke, archdeacon of Stamford. Crabbe continued his duties as ducal chaplain, being in the main a non-resident priest so far as his Dorsetshire parishes were concerned. In 1785 he published The Newspaper. Crabbe was at Stathern for four years.  He had been four years at Muston when his wife inherited certain interests in a property of her uncle's that placed her and her husband in possession of Ducking Hall, Parham, Suffolk.  At Muston parsonage Crabbe resided for twelve years, divided by a long interval. Here he took up his residence from 1793 to 1796, leaving curates in charge of his two livings. In 1796 the loss of their son Edmund led the Crabbes to remove from Parham to Great Glemham Hall, Suffolk, where they lived until 1801. In that year Crabbe went to live at Rendham, a village in the same neighbourhood. In 1805 he returned to Muston. In 1807 he broke a silence of more than twenty years by the publication of The Parish Register, in 1810 of The Borough, and in 1812 of Tales in Verse.  In 1813 Crabbe's wife died, and in 1814 he was given the living of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, by the duke of Rutland, a son of his early patron, who, it is interesting to recall, wanted the living of Muston for a cousin of Lord Byron. From 1814 to his death in 1832 Crabbe resided at Trowbridge. These last years were the most prosperous of his life. In 1817 his Tales of the Hall were completed, and John Murray offered £3000 for the copyright, Crabbe's previous works being included.  The adventure, complicated as it was by the visit of George IV about the same time, is most amusingly described in Lockhart's biography of Scott, although one episode-that of the broken wine-glass-is discredited by Crabbe's biographer, M. Huchon. Never was any poet at the same time so great and continuous a favourite with the critics, and yet so conspicuously allowed to fall into oblivion by the public. All the poets of his earlier and his later years, Cowper, Scott, Byron, Shelley in particular, have been reprinted again and again. With Crabbe it was long quite otherwise. His works were collected into eight volumes, the first containing his life by his son, in 1832. The edition was intended to continue with some of his prose writings, but the reception of the eight volumes was not sufficiently encouraging. A reprint, however, in one volume was made in 1847, and it has been reproduced since in 1854, 1867 and 1901. The exhaustion of the copyright, however, did no good for Crabbe's reputation, and it was not until the end of the century that sundry volumes of " selections " from his poems appeared; Edward FitzGerald, of Omar Khayyam fame, always a loyal admirer, made a " Selection, " privately printed by Quaritch, in 1879. A " Selection " by Bernard Holland appeared in 1899, another by С. H. Herford in 1902 and a third by Deane in 1903. The Complete Works were published by the Cambridge University Press in three volumes, edited by A. W. Ward, in 1906. Crabbe's poems have been praised by many competent pens, by Edward FitzGerald in his Letters, by Cardinal Newman in his Apologia, and by Sir Leslie Stephen in his Hours in a Library, most notably.  Although his influence diminished after his death, he has always had his admirers, among whom have been Wordsworth, Byron, Jane Austen, Tennyson, Cardinal Newman, and Thomas Hardy. Forster has written the introduction for a new edition of the Life of Crabbe by the poet's son- a classic in its own right and an admirable introduction to a study of Crabbe.


  • One of Britten's most famous works, the opera Peter Grimes, is based upon the poem of that name from Crabbe's The Borough.


In May 1783 Crabbe's poem The Village was published by Dodsley, and in December of this year he married Sarah Elmy. Of his seven children only two survived, and his wife became permanently manic-depressive. After her death he certainly carried on a succession of mild flirtations, and one Of his parishioners, Charlotte Ridout, would have married him. The elderly widower had proposed to her and had been accepted in 1814, but he drew out of the engagement in 1816. He proposed to yet another friend, Elizabeth Charter, somewhat later.

‌Mary Lodwick

‌Robert Crabbe