George Crabbe was born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, the eldest child of six. His father was originally a schoolteacher but finished up working as a tax collector for salt duties. George was educated at boarding schools in Bungay and Stowmarket but left school at fourteen in 1768 to become an apprentice physician. The doctor to whom he was articled also kept a small farm and a lot of George’s time was spent doing farm work rather than medicine. Accordingly, he changed master in 1771 and moved to a practice in Woodbridge where he remained until 1775.
He had taken an interest in literature from an early age and after completing his apprenticeship he started to write poetry, some of which was published. He then moved to London to practise medicine but in 1781 he changed tack and was ordained as a curate at his home church in Aldeburgh, also becoming chaplain to the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir in Leicestershire. He got married to Sarah Elmy in 1783, received his LL B from the Archbishop of Canterbury and was given two livings in Dorset which were managed for him by curates. Between 1785 and 1810 he held two livings in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire and ended his clerical career as rector of St James church in Trowbridge, Wiltshire where there is a monument to him.
Throughout his time in the church he wrote poetry which portrayed the hardships of everyday rural life with realistic, vivid descriptions of village characters. His poems The Village, written in 1783, and The Borough (1810) are good examples of this. The Village was included in a new volume published in 1807 which also featured the poems The Parish Register and The Library. Further volumes followed in 1812 and 1819 as well as a collection published posthumously in 1834. He died in 1832, having lost his wife some twenty years earlier after she had suffered from mental illness. Crabbe’s poetry is essentially serious in tone but reflects his love of the common man. Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes is based on one of Crabbe’s characters in The Borough.