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distress, when its technical beauties and wonderful pictures seem shadowy and unreal, like the yellow sunshine and the woods of that autumn day when a man learned that his friend was dead. No, it was not the speculations and arguments that consoled or encouraged us. We did not listen to Tennyson as to Mr Frederic Harrison’s glorified Anglican clergyman. We could not murmur, like the Queen of the May –

“That good man, the Laureate, has told tis words of peace.”

What we valued was the poet’s companionship. There was a young reader to whom All along the Valley came as a new poem in a time of recent sorrow.

“The two-and-thirty years were a mist that rolls away,”

said the singer of In Memoriam, and in that hour it seemed as if none could endure for two-and-thirty years the companionship of loss. But the years have gone by, and have left

“Ever young the face that dwells
With reason cloister’d in the brain.” {10}

In this way to many In Memoriam is almost a life-long companion: we walk with Great-heart for our guide through the valley Perilous.

In this respect In Memoriam is unique, for neither to its praise nor dispraise is it to be compared with the other famous elegies of the world. These are brief outbursts of grief–real, as in the hopeless words of Catullus over his brother’s tomb; or academic, like Milton’s Lycidas. We are not to suppose that Milton was heart-broken by the death of young Mr King, or that Shelley was greatly desolated by the death of Keats, with whom his personal relations had been slight, and of whose poetry he had spoken evil. He was nobly stirred as a poet by a poet’s death–like Mr Swinburne by the death of Charles Baudelaire; but neither Shelley nor Mr Swinburne was lamenting dimidium animae suae, or mourning for a friend

“Dear as the mother to the son,
More than my brothers are to me.”

The passion of In Memoriam is personal, is acute, is life-long, and thus it differs from the other elegies. Moreover, it celebrates a noble object, and thus is unlike the ambiguous affection, real or dramatic, which informs the sonnets of Shakespeare. So the poem stands alone, cloistered; not fiery with indignation, not breaking into actual prophecy, like Shelley’s Adonais; not capable, by reason even of its meditative metre, of the organ music of Lycidas. Yet it is not to be reckoned inferior to these because its aim and plan are other than theirs.

It is far from my purpose to “class” Tennyson, or to dispute about his relative greatness when compared with Wordsworth or Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, or Burns. He rated one song of Lovelace above all his lyrics, and, in fact, could no more have written the Cavalier’s To Althea from Prison than Lovelace could have written the Morte d’Arthur. “It is not reasonable, it is not fair,” says Mr Harrison, after comparing In Memoriam with Lycidas, “to compare Tennyson with Milton,” and it is not reasonable to compare Tennyson with any poet whatever. Criticism is not the construction of a class list. But we may reasonably say that In Memoriam is a noble poem, an original poem, a poem which stands alone in literature. The wonderful beauty, ever fresh, howsoever often read, of many stanzas, is not denied by any critic. The marvel is that the same serene certainty of art broods over even the stanzas which must have been conceived while the sorrow was fresh. The second piece,

“Old yew, which graspest at the stones,”

must have been composed soon after the stroke fell. Yet it is as perfect as the proem of 1849. As a rule, the poetical expression of strong emotion appears usually to clothe the memory of passion when it has been softened by time. But here already “the rhythm, phrasing, and articulation are entirely faultless, exquisitely clear, melodious, and rare.” {11} It were superfluous labour to point at special beauties, at the exquisite rendering of nature; and copious commentaries exist to explain the course of the argument, if a series of moods is to be called an argument. One may note such a point as that (xiv.) where the poet says that, were he to meet his friend in life,

“I should not feel it to be strange.”

It may have happened to many to mistake, for a section of a second, the face of a stranger for the face seen only in dreams, and to find that the recognition brings no surprise.

Pieces of a character apart from the rest, and placed in a designed sequence, are xcii., xciii., xcv. In the first the poet says –

“If any vision should reveal
Thy likeness, I might count it vain As but the canker of the brain;
Yea, tho’ it spake and made appeal

To chances where our lots were cast
Together in the days behind,
I might but say, I hear a wind
Of memory murmuring the past.

Yea, tho’ it spake and bared to view
A fact within the coming year;
And tho’ the months, revolving near, Should prove the phantom-warning true,

They might not seem thy prophecies,
But spiritual presentiments,
And such refraction of events
As often rises ere they rise.”

The author thus shows himself difficile as to recognising the personal identity of a phantasm; nor is it easy to see what mode of proving his identity would be left to a spirit. The poet, therefore, appeals to some perhaps less satisfactory experience:-

“Descend, and touch, and enter; hear
The wish too strong for words to name; That in this blindness of the frame
My Ghost may feel that thine is near.”

The third poem is the crown of In Memoriam, expressing almost such things as are not given to man to utter:-

And all at once it seem’d at last
The living soul was flash’d on mine,

And mine in this was wound, and whirl’d About empyreal heights of thought,
And came on that which is, and caught The deep pulsations of the world,

AEonian music measuring out
The steps of Time–the shocks of Chance – The blows of Death. At length my trance Was cancell’d, stricken thro’ with doubt.

Vague words! but ah, how hard to frame In matter-moulded forms of speech,
Or ev’n for intellect to reach
Thro’ memory that which I became.”

Experiences like this, subjective, and not matter for argument, were familiar to Tennyson. Jowett said, “He was one of those who, though not an upholder of miracles, thought that the wonders of Heaven and Earth were never far absent from us.” In The Mystic, Tennyson, when almost a boy, had shown familiarity with strange psychological and psychical conditions. Poems of much later life also deal with these, and, more or less consciously, his philosophy was tinged, and his confidence that we are more than “cunning casts in clay” was increased, by phenomena of experience, which can only be evidence for the mystic himself, if even for him. But this dim aspect of his philosophy, of course, is “to the Greeks foolishness.”

His was a philosophy of his own; not a philosophy for disciples, and “those that eddy round and round.” It was the sum of his reflection on the mass of his impressions. I have shown, by the aid of dates, that it was not borrowed from Huxley, Mr Stopford Brooke, or the late Duke of Argyll. But, no doubt, many of the ideas were “in the air,” and must have presented themselves to minds at once of religious tendency, and attracted by the evolutionary theories which had always existed as floating speculations, till they were made current coin by the genius and patient study of Darwin. That Tennyson’s opinions between 1830 and 1840 were influenced by those of F. D. Maurice is reckoned probable by Canon Ainger, author of the notice of the poet in The Dictionary of National Biography. In the Life of Maurice, Tennyson does not appear till 1850, and the two men were not at Cambridge together. But Maurice’s ideas, as they then existed, may have reached Tennyson orally through Hallam and other members of the Trinity set, who knew personally the author of Letters to a Quaker. However, this is no question of scientific priority: to myself it seems that Tennyson “beat his music out” for himself, as perhaps most people do. Like his own Sir Percivale, “I know not all he meant.”

Among the opinions as to In Memoriam current at the time of its publication Lord Tennyson notices those of Maurice and Robertson. They “thought that the poet had made a definite step towards the unification of the highest religion and philosophy with the progressive science of the day.” Neither science nor religion stands still; neither stands now where it then did. Conceivably they are travelling on paths which will ultimately coincide; but this opinion, of course, must seem foolishness to most professors of science. Bishop Westcott was at Cambridge when the book appeared: he is one of Mr Harrison’s possible sources of Tennyson’s ideas. He recognised the poet’s “splendid faith (in the face of every difficulty) in the growing purpose of the sum of life, and in the noble destiny of the individual man.” Ten years later Professor Henry Sidgwick, a mind sufficiently sceptical, found in some lines of In Memoriam “the indestructible and inalienable minimum of faith which humanity cannot give up because it is necessary for life; and which I know that I, at least so far as the man in me is deeper than the methodical thinker, cannot give up.” But we know that many persons not only do not find an irreducible minimum of faith “necessary for life,” but are highly indignant and contemptuous if any one else ventures to suggest the logical possibility of any faith at all.

The mass of mankind will probably never be convinced unbelievers– nay, probably the backward or forward swing of the pendulum will touch more convinced belief. But there always have been, since the Rishis of India sang, superior persons who believe in nothing not material–whatever the material may be. Tennyson was, it is said, “impatient” of these esprits forts, and they are impatient of him. It is an error to be impatient: we know not whither the logos may lead us, or later generations; and we ought not to be irritated with others because it leads them into what we think the wrong path. It is unfortunate that a work of art, like In Memoriam, should arouse theological or anti-theological passions. The poet only shows us the paths by which his mind travelled: they may not be the right paths, nor is it easy to trace them on a philosophical chart. He escaped from Doubting Castle. Others may “take that for a hermitage,” and be happy enough in the residence. We are all determined by our bias: Tennyson’s is unconcealed. His poem is not a tract: it does not aim at the conversion of people with the contrary bias, it is irksome, in writing about a poet, to be obliged to discuss a philosophy which, certainly, is not stated in the manner of Spinoza, but is merely the equilibrium of contending forces in a single mind.

The most famous review of In Memoriam is that which declared that “these touching lines evidently come from the full heart of the widow of a military man.” This is only equalled, if equalled, by a recent critique which treated a fresh edition of Jane Eyre as a new novel, “not without power, in parts, and showing some knowledge of Yorkshire local colour.”


On June 13 Tennyson married, at Shiplake, the object of his old, long-tried, and constant affection. The marriage was still “imprudent,”–eight years of then uncontested supremacy in English poetry had not brought a golden harvest. Mr Moxon appears to have supplied 300 pounds “in advance of royalties.” The sum, so contemptible in the eyes of first-rate modern novelists, was a competence to Tennyson, added to his little pension and the epaves of his patrimony. “The peace of God came into my life when I married her,” he said in later days. The poet made a charming copy of verses to his friend, the Rev. Mr Rawnsley, who tied the knot, as he and his bride drove to the beautiful village of Pangbourne. Thence they went to the stately Clevedon Court, the seat of Sir Abraham Elton, hard by the church where Arthur Hallam sleeps. The place is very ancient and beautiful, and was a favourite haunt of Thackeray. They passed on to Lynton, and to Glastonbury, where a collateral ancestor of Mrs Tennyson’s is buried beside King Arthur’s grave, in that green valley of Avilion, among the apple-blossoms. They settled for a while at Tent Lodge on Coniston Water, in a land of hospitable Marshalls.

After their return to London, on the night of November 18, Tennyson dreamed that Prince Albert came and kissed him, and that he himself said, “Very kind, but very German,” which was very like him. Next day he received from Windsor the offer of the Laureateship. He doubted, and hesitated, but accepted. Since Wordsworth’s death there had, as usual, been a good deal of banter about the probable new Laureate: examples of competitive odes exist in Bon Gaultier. That by Tennyson is Anacreontic, but he was not really set on kissing the Maids of Honour, as he is made to sing. Rogers had declined, on the plea of extreme old age; but it was worthy of the great and good Queen not to overlook the Nestor of English poets. For the rest, the Queen looked for “a name bearing such distinction in the literary world as to do credit to the appointment.” In the previous century the great poets had rarely been Laureates. But since Sir Walter Scott declined the bays in favour of Southey, for whom, again, the tale of bricks in the way of Odes was lightened, and when Wordsworth succeeded Southey, the office became honourable. Tennyson gave it an increase of renown, while, though in itself of merely nominal value, it served his poems, to speak profanely, as an advertisement. New editions of his books were at once in demand; while few readers had ever heard of Mr Browning, already his friend, and already author of Men and Women.

The Laureateship brought the poet acquainted with the Queen, who was to be his debtor in later days for encouragement and consolation. To his Laureateship we owe, among other good things, the stately and moving Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington, a splendid heroic piece, unappreciated at the moment. But Tennyson was, of course, no Birthday poet. Since the exile of the House of Stuart our kings in England have not maintained the old familiarity with many classes of their subjects. Literature has not been fashionable at Court, and Tennyson could in no age have been a courtier. We hear the complaint, every now and then, that official honours are not conferred (except the Laureateship) on men of letters. But most of them probably think it rather distinguished not to be decorated, or to carry titles borne by many deserving persons unvisited by the Muses. Even the appointment to the bays usually provokes a great deal of jealous and spiteful feeling, which would only be multiplied if official honours were distributed among men of the pen. Perhaps Tennyson’s laurels were not for nothing in the chorus of dispraise which greeted the Ode on the Duke of Wellington, and Maud.

The year 1851 was chiefly notable for a tour to Italy, made immortal in the beautiful poem of The Daisy, in a measure of the poet’s own invention. The next year, following on the Coup d’etat and the rise of the new French empire, produced patriotic appeals to Britons to “guard their own,” which to a great extent former alien owners had been unsuccessful in guarding from Britons. The Tennysons had lost their first child at his birth: perhaps he is remembered in The Grandmother, “the babe had fought for his life.” In August 1852 the present Lord Tennyson was born, and Mr Maurice was asked to be godfather. The Wellington Ode was of November, and was met by “the almost universal depreciation of the press,”–why, except because, as I have just suggested, Tennyson was Laureate, it is impossible to imagine. The verses were worthy of the occasion: more they could not be.

In the autumn of 1853 the poet visited Ardtornish on the Sound of Mull, a beautiful place endeared to him who now writes by the earliest associations. It chanced to him to pass his holidays there just when Tennyson and Mr Palgrave had left–“Mr Tinsmith and Mr Pancake,” as Robert the boatman, a very black Celt, called them. Being then nine years of age, I heard of a poet’s visit, and asked, “A real poet, like Sir Walter Scott?” with whom I then supposed that “the Muse had gone away.” “Oh, not like Sir Walter Scott, of course,” my mother told me, with loyalty unashamed. One can think of the poet as Mrs Sellar, his hostess, describes him, beneath the limes of the avenue at Acharn, planted, Mrs Sellar says, by a cousin of Flora Macdonald. I have been told that the lady who planted the lilies, if not the limes, was the famed Jacobite, Miss Jennie Cameron, mentioned in Tom Jones. An English engraving of 1746 shows the Prince between these two beauties, Flora and Jennie.

“No one,” says Mrs Sellar, “could have been more easy, simple, and delightful,” and indeed it is no marvel that in her society and that of her husband, the Greek professor, and her cousin, Miss Cross, and in such scenes, “he blossomed out in the most genial manner, making us all feel as if he were an old friend.”

In November Tennyson took a house at Farringford, “as it was beautiful and far from the haunts of men.” There he settled to a country existence in the society of his wife, his two children (the second, Lionel, being in 1854 the baby), and there he composed Maud, while the sound of the guns, in practice for the war of the Crimea, boomed from the coast. In May Tennyson saw the artists, of schools oddly various, who illustrated his poems. Millais, Rossetti, and Holman Hunt gave the tone to the art, but Mr Horsley, Creswick, and Mulgrave were also engaged. While Maud was being composed Tennyson wrote The Charge of the Light Brigade; a famous poem, not in a manner in which he was born to excel–at least in my poor opinion. “Some one HAD blundered,” and that line was the first fashioned and the keynote of the poem; but, after all, “blundered” is not an exquisite rhyme to “hundred.” The poem, in any case, was most welcome to our army in the Crimea, and is a spirited piece for recitation.

In January 1855 Maud was finished; in April the poet copied it out for the press, and refreshed himself by reading a very different poem, The Lady of the Lake. The author, Sir Walter, had suffered, like the hero of Maud, by an unhappy love affair, which just faintly colours The Lady of the Lake by a single allusion, in the description of Fitz-James’s dreams:-

“Then,–from my couch may heavenly might Chase that worst phantom of the night! – Again returned the scenes of youth,
Of confident undoubting truth;
Again his soul he interchanged
With friends whose hearts were long estranged. They come, in dim procession led,
The cold, the faithless, and the dead; As warm each hand, each brow as gay,
As if they parted yesterday.
And doubt distracts him at the view – Oh, were his senses false or true?
Dreamed he of death, or broken vow, Or is it all a vision now?”

We learn from Lady Louisa Stuart, to whom Scott read these lines, that they referred to his lost love. I cite the passage because the extreme reticence of Scott, in his undying sorrow, is in contrast with what Tennyson, after reading The Lady of the Lake, was putting into the mouth of his complaining lover in Maud.

We have no reason to suppose that Tennyson himself had ever to bewail a faithless love. To be sure, the hero of Locksley Hall is in this attitude, but then Locksley Hall is not autobiographical. Less dramatic and impersonal in appearance are the stanzas –

“Come not, when I am dead,
To drop thy foolish tears upon my grave;”


“Child, if it were thine error or thy crime I care no longer, being all unblest.”

No biographer tells us whether this was a personal complaint or a mere set of verses on an imaginary occasion. In In Memoriam Tennyson speaks out concerning the loss of a friend. In Maud, as in Locksley Hall, he makes his hero reveal the agony caused by the loss of a mistress. There is no reason to suppose that the poet had ever any such mischance, but many readers have taken Locksley Hall and Maud for autobiographical revelations, like In Memoriam. They are, on the other hand, imaginative and dramatic. They illustrate the pangs of disappointed love of woman, pangs more complex and more rankling than those inflicted by death. In each case, however, the poet, who has sung so nobly the happiness of fortunate wedded loves, has chosen a hero with whom we do not readily sympathise–a Hamlet in miniature,

“With a heart of furious fancies,”

as in the old mad song. This choice, thanks to the popular misconception, did him some harm. As a “monodramatic Idyll,” a romance in many rich lyric measures, Maud was at first excessively unpopular. “Tennyson’s Maud is Tennyson’s Maudlin,” said a satirist, and “morbid,” “mad,” “rampant,” and “rabid bloodthirstiness of soul,” were among the amenities of criticism. Tennyson hated war, but his hero, at least, hopes that national union in a national struggle will awake a nobler than the commercial spirit. Into the rights and wrongs of our quarrel with Russia we are not to go. Tennyson, rightly or wrongly, took the part of his country, and must “thole the feud” of those high-souled citizens who think their country always in the wrong–as perhaps it very frequently is. We are not to expect a tranquil absence of bias in the midst of military excitement, when very laudable sentiments are apt to misguide men in both directions. In any case, political partisanship added to the enemies of the poem, which was applauded by Henry Taylor, Ruskin, George Brimley, and Jowett, while Mrs Browning sent consoling words from Italy. The poem remained a favourite with the author, who chose passages from it often, when persuaded to read aloud by friends; and modern criticism has not failed to applaud the splendour of the verse and the subtlety of the mad scenes, the passion of the love lyrics.

These merits have ceased to be disputed, but, though a loyal Tennysonian, I have never quite been able to reconcile myself to Maud as a whole. The hero is an unwholesome young man, and not of an original kind. He is un beau tenebreux of 1830. I suppose it has been observed that he is merely The Master of Ravenswood in modern costume, and without Lady Ashton. Her part is taken by Maud’s brother. The situations of the hero and of the Master (whose acquaintance Thackeray never renewed after he lost his hat in the Kelpie Flow) are nearly identical. The families and fathers of both have been ruined by “the gray old wolf,” and by Sir William Ashton, representing the house of Stair. Both heroes live dawdling on, hard by their lost ancestral homes. Both fall in love with the daughters of the enemies of their houses. The loves of both are baffled, and end in tragedy. Both are concerned in a duel, though the Master, on his way to the ground, “stables his steed in the Kelpie Flow,” and the wooer in Maud shoots Lucy Ashton’s brother,–I mean the brother of Maud,–though duelling in England was out of date. Then comes an interval of madness, and he recovers amid the patriotic emotions of the ill-fated Crimean expedition. Both lovers are gloomy, though the Master has better cause, for the Tennysonian hero is more comfortably provided for than Edgar with his “man and maid,” his Caleb and Mysie. Finally, both The Bride of Lammermoor, which affected Tennyson so potently in boyhood

(“A merry merry bridal,
A merry merry day”),

and Maud, excel in passages rather than as wholes.

The hero of Maud, with his clandestine wooing of a girl of sixteen, has this apology, that the match had been, as it were, predestined, and desired by the mother of the lady. Still, the brother did not ill to be angry; and the peevishness of the hero against the brother and the parvenu lord and rival strikes a jarring note. In England, at least, the general sentiment is opposed to this moody, introspective kind of young man, of whom Tennyson is not to be supposed to approve. We do not feel certain that his man and maid were “ever ready to slander and steal.” That seems to be part of his jaundiced way of looking at everything and everybody. He has even a bad word for the “man-god” of modern days, –

“The man of science himself is fonder of glory, and vain, An eye well-practised in nature, a spirit bounded and poor.”

Rien n’est sacre for this cynic, who thinks himself a Stoic. Thus Maud was made to be unpopular with the author’s countrymen, who conceived a prejudice against Maud’s lover, described by Tennyson as “a morbid poetic soul, . . . an egotist with the makings of a cynic.” That he is “raised to sanity” (still in Tennyson’s words) “by a pure and holy love which elevates his whole nature,” the world failed to perceive, especially as the sanity was only a brief lucid interval, tempered by hanging about the garden to meet a girl of sixteen, unknown to her relations. Tennyson added that “different phases of passion in one person take the place of different characters,” to which critics replied that they wanted different characters, if only by way of relief, and did not care for any of the phases of passion. The learned Monsieur Janet has maintained that love is a disease like another, and that nobody falls in love when in perfect health of mind and body. This theory seems open to exception, but the hero of Maud is unhealthy enough. At best and last, he only helps to give a martial force a “send-off”:-

“I stood on a giant deck and mixed my breath With a loyal people shouting a battle-cry.”

He did not go out as a volunteer, and probably the Crimean winters brought him back to his original estate of cynical gloom–and very naturally.

The reconciliation with Life is not like the reconciliation of In Memoriam. The poem took its rise in old lines, and most beautiful lines, which Tennyson had contributed in 1837 to a miscellany:-

“O that ’twere possible,
After long grief and pain,
To find the arms of my true love
Round me once again.”

Thence the poet, working back to find the origin of the situation, encountered the ideas and the persons of Maud.

I have tried to state the sources, in the general mind, of the general dislike of Maud. The public, “driving at practice,” disapproved of the “criticism of life” in the poem; confused the suffering narrator with the author, and neglected the poetry. “No modern poem,” said Jowett, “contains more lines that ring in the ears of men. I do not know any verse out of Shakespeare in which the ecstacy of love soars to such a height.” With these comments we may agree, yet may fail to follow Jowett when he says, “No poem since Shakespeare seems to show equal power of the same kind, or equal knowledge of human nature.” Shakespeare could not in a narrative poem have preferred the varying passions of one character to the characters of many persons.

Tennyson was “nettled at first,” his son says, “by these captious remarks of the ‘indolent reviewers,’ but afterwards he would take no notice of them except to speak of them in a half-pitiful, half- humorous, half-mournful manner.” The besetting sin and error of the critics was, of course, to confound Tennyson’s hero with himself, as if we confused Dickens with Pip.

Like Aurora Leigh, Lucile, and other works, Maud is under the disadvantage of being, practically, a novel of modern life in verse. Criticised as a tale of modern life (and it was criticised in that character), it could not be very highly esteemed. But the essence of Maud, of course, lies in the poetical vehicle. Nobody can cavil at the impressiveness of the opening stanzas –

“I hate the dreadful hollow behind the little wood”;

with the keynotes of colour and of desolation struck; the lips of the hollow “dabbled with blood-red heath,” the “red-ribb’d ledges,” and “the flying gold of the ruin’d woodlands”; and the contrast in the picture of the child Maud –

“Maud the delight of the village, the ringing joy of the Hall.”

The poem abounds in lines which live in the memory, as in the vernal description –

“A million emeralds break from the ruby-budded lime”;

and the voice heard in the garden singing

“A passionate ballad gallant and gay,”

as Lovelace’s Althea, and the lines on the far-off waving of a white hand, “betwixt the cloud and the moon.” The lyric of

“Birds in the high Hall-garden
When twilight was falling,
Maud, Maud, Maud, Maud,
They were crying and calling,”

was a favourite of the poet.

“What birds were these?” he is said to have asked a lady suddenly, when reading to a silent company.

“Nightingales,” suggested a listener, who did not probably remember any other fowl that is vocal in the dusk.

“No, they were rooks,” answered the poet.

“Come into the Garden, Maud,” is as fine a love-song as Tennyson ever wrote, with a triumphant ring, and a soaring exultant note. Then the poem drops from its height, like a lark shot high in heaven; tragedy comes, and remorse, and the beautiful interlude of the

“lovely shell,
Small and pure as a pearl.”

Then follows the exquisite

“O that ’twere possible,”

and the dull consciousness of the poem of madness, with its dumb gnawing confusion of pain and wandering memory; the hero being finally left, in the author’s words, “sane but shattered.”

Tennyson’s letters of the time show that the critics succeeded in wounding him: it was not a difficult thing to do. Maud was threatened with a broadside from “that pompholygous, broad-blown Apollodorus, the gifted X.” People who have read Aytoun’s diverting Firmilian, where Apollodorus plays his part, and who remember “gifted Gilfillan” in Waverley, know who the gifted X. was. But X. was no great authority south of Tay.

Despite the almost unanimous condemnation by public critics, the success of Maud enabled Tennyson to buy Farringford, so he must have been better appreciated and understood by the world than by the reviewers.

In February 1850 Tennyson returned to his old Arthurian themes, “the only big thing not done,” for Milton had merely glanced at Arthur, Dryden did not

“Raise the Table Round again,”

and Blackmore has never been reckoned adequate. Vivien was first composed as Merlin and Nimue, and then Geraint and Enid was adapted from the Mabinogion, the Welsh collection of Marchen and legends, things of widely different ages, now rather Celtic, or Brythonic, now amplifications made under the influence of mediaeval French romance. Enid was finished in Wales in August, and Tennyson learned Welsh enough to be able to read the Mabinogion, which is much more of Welsh than many Arthurian critics possess. The two first Idylls were privately printed in the summer of 1857, being very rare and much desired of collectors in this embryonic shape. In July Guinevere was begun, in the middle, with Arthur’s valedictory address to his erring consort. In autumn Tennyson visited the late Duke of Argyll at Inveraray: he was much attached to the Duke–unlike Professor Huxley. Their love of nature, the Duke being as keen-eyed as the poet was short-sighted, was one tie of union. The Indian Mutiny, or at least the death of Havelock, was the occasion of lines which the author was too wise to include in any of his volumes: the poem on Lucknow was of later composition.

Guinevere was completed in March 1858; and Tennyson met Mr Swinburne, then very young. “What I particularly admired in him was that he did not press upon me any verses of his own.” Tennyson would have found more to admire if he had pressed for a sight of the verses. Neither he nor Mr Matthew Arnold was very encouraging to young poets: they had no sons in Apollo, like Ben Jonson. But both were kept in a perpetual state of apprehension by the army of versifiers who send volumes by post, to whom that can only be said what Tennyson did say to one of them, “As an amusement to yourself and your friends, the writing it” (verse) “is all very well.” It is the friends who do not find it amusing, while the stranger becomes the foe. The psychology of these pests of the Muses is bewildering. They do not seem to read poetry, only to write it and launch it at unoffending strangers. If they bought each other’s books, all of them could afford to publish.

The Master of Balliol, the most adviceful man, if one may use the term, of his age, appears to have advised Tennyson to publish the Idylls at once. There had been years of silence since Maud, and the Master suspected that “mosquitoes” (reviewers) were the cause. “There is a note needed to show the good side of human nature and to condone its frailties which Thackeray will never strike.” To others it seems that Thackeray was eternally striking this note: at that time in General Lambert, his wife, and daughters, not to speak of other characters in The Virginians. Who does not condone the frailties of Captain Costigan, and F. B., and the Chevalier Strong? In any case, Tennyson took his own time, he was (1858) only beginning Elaine. There is no doubt that Tennyson was easily pricked by unsympathetic criticism, even from the most insignificant source, and, as he confessed, he received little pleasure from praise. All authors, without exception, are sensitive. A sturdier author wrote that he would sometimes have been glad to meet his assailant “where the muir-cock was bailie.” We know how testily Wordsworth replied in defence to the gentlest comments by Lamb.

The Master of Balliol kept insisting, “As to the critics, their power is not really great. . . . One drop of natural feeling in poetry or the true statement of a single new fact is already felt to be of more value than all the critics put together.” Yet even critics may be in the right, and of all great poets, Tennyson listened most obediently to their censures, as we have seen in the case of his early poems. His prolonged silences after the attacks of 1833 and 1855 were occupied in work and reflection: Achilles was not merely sulking in his tent, as some of his friends seem to have supposed. An epic in a series of epic idylls cannot be dashed off like a romantic novel in rhyme; and Tennyson’s method was always one of waiting for maturity of conception and execution.

Mrs Tennyson, doubtless by her lord’s desire, asked the Master (then tutor of Balliol) to suggest themes. Old age was suggested, and is treated in The Grandmother. Other topics were not handled. “I hold most strongly,” said the Master, “that it is the duty of every one who has the good fortune to know a man of genius to do any trifling service they can to lighten his work.” To do every service in his power to every man was the Master’s life-long practice. He was not much at home, his letters show, with Burns, to whom he seems to have attributed John Anderson, my jo, John, while he tells an anecdote of Burns composing Tam o’ Shanter with emotional tears, which, if true at all, is true of the making of To Mary in Heaven. If Burns wept over Tam o’ Shanter, the tears must have been tears of laughter.

The first four Idylls of the King were prepared for publication in the spring of 1859; while Tennyson was at work also on Pelleas and Ettarre, and the Tristram cycle. In autumn he went on a tour to Lisbon with Mr F. T. Palgrave and Mr Craufurd Grove. Returning, he fell eagerly to reading an early copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the crown of his own early speculations on the theory of evolution. “Your theory does not make against Christianity?” he asked Darwin later (1868), who replied, “No, certainly not.” But Darwin has stated the waverings of his own mind in contact with a topic too high for a priori reasoning, and only to be approached, if at all, on the strength of the scientific method applied to facts which science, so far, neglects, or denies, or “explains away,” rather than explains.

The Idylls, unlike Maud, were well received by the press, better by the public, and best of all by friends like Thackeray, the Duke of Argyll, the Master of Balliol, and Clough, while Ruskin showed some reserve. The letter from Thackeray I cannot deny myself the pleasure of citing from the Biography: it was written “in an ardour of claret and gratitude,” but posted some six weeks later:-

FOLKESTONE, September.
36 ONSLOW SQUARE, October.

My Dear Old Alfred,–I owe you a letter of happiness and thanks. Sir, about three weeks ago, when I was ill in bed, I read the Idylls of the King, and I thought, “Oh, I must write to him now, for this pleasure, this delight, this splendour of happiness which I have been enjoying.” But I should have blotted the sheets, ’tis ill writing on one’s back. The letter full of gratitude never went as far as the post-office, and how comes it now?

D’abord, a bottle of claret. (The landlord of the hotel asked me down to the cellar and treated me.) Then afterwards sitting here, an old magazine, Fraser’s Magazine, 1850, and I come on a poem out of The Princess which says, “I hear the horns of Elfland blowing, blowing,”–no, it’s “the horns of Elfland faintly blowing” (I have been into my bedroom to fetch my pen and it has made that blot), and, reading the lines, which only one man in the world could write, I thought about the other horns of Elfland blowing in full strength, and Arthur in gold armour, and Guinevere in gold hair, and all those knights and heroes and beauties and purple landscapes and misty gray lakes in which you have made me live. They seem like facts to me, since about three weeks ago (three weeks or a month was it?) when I read the book. It is on the table yonder, and I don’t like, somehow, to disturb it, but the delight and gratitude! You have made me as happy as I was as a child with the Arabian Nights,–every step I have walked in Elfland has been a sort of Paradise to me. (The landlord gave TWO bottles of his claret and I think I drank the most) and here I have been lying back in the chair and thinking of those delightful Idylls, my thoughts being turned to you: what could I do but be grateful to that surprising genius which has made me so happy? Do you understand that what I mean is all true, and that I should break out were you sitting opposite with a pipe in your mouth? Gold and purple and diamonds, I say, gentlemen, and glory and love and honour, and if you haven’t given me all these why should I be in such an ardour of gratitude? But I have had out of that dear book the greatest delight that has ever come to me since I was a young man; to write and think about it makes me almost young, and this I suppose is what I’m doing, like an after-dinner speech.

P.S.–I thought the “Grandmother” quite as fine. How can you at 50 be doing things as well as at 35?

October 16th.–(I should think six weeks after the writing of the above.)

The rhapsody of gratitude was never sent, and for a peculiar reason: just about the time of writing I came to an arrangement with Smith & Elder to edit their new magazine, and to have a contribution from T. was the publishers’ and editor’s highest ambition. But to ask a man for a favour, and to praise and bow down before him in the same page, seemed to be so like hypocrisy, that I held my hand, and left this note in my desk, where it has been lying during a little French- Italian-Swiss tour which my girls and their papa have been making.

Meanwhile S. E. & Co. have been making their own proposals to you, and you have replied not favourably, I am sorry to hear; but now there is no reason why you should not have my homages, and I am just as thankful for the Idylls, and love and admire them just as much, as I did two months ago when I began to write in that ardour of claret and gratitude. If you can’t write for us you can’t. If you can by chance some day, and help an old friend, how pleased and happy I shall be! This however must be left to fate and your convenience: I don’t intend to give up hope, but accept the good fortune if it comes. I see one, two, three quarterlies advertised to-day, as all bringing laurels to laureatus. He will not refuse the private tribute of an old friend, will he? You don’t know how pleased the girls were at Kensington t’other day to hear you quote their father’s little verses, and he too I daresay was not disgusted. He sends you and yours his very best regards in this most heartfelt and artless

(note of admiration)!
Always yours, my dear Alfred,

Naturally this letter gave Tennyson more pleasure than all the converted critics with their favourable reviews. The Duke of Argyll announced the conversion of Macaulay. The Master found Elaine “the fairest, sweetest, purest love poem in the English language.” As to the whole, “The allegory in the distance GREATLY STRENGTHENS, ALSO ELEVATES, THE MEANING OF THE POEM.”

Ruskin, like some other critics, felt “the art and finish in these poems a little more than I like to feel it.” Yet Guinevere and Elaine had been rapidly written and little corrected. I confess to the opinion that what a man does most easily is, as a rule, what he does best. We know that the “art and finish” of Shakespeare were spontaneous, and so were those of Tennyson. Perfection in art is sometimes more sudden than we think, but then “the long preparation for it,–that unseen germination, THAT is what we ignore and forget.” But he wisely kept his pieces by him for a long time, restudying them with a fresh eye. The “unreality” of the subject also failed to please Ruskin, as it is a stumbling-block to others. He wanted poems on “the living present,” a theme not selected by Homer, Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Virgil, or the Greek dramatists, except (among surviving plays) in the Persae of AEschylus. The poet who can transfigure the hot present is fortunate, but most, and the greatest, have visited the cool quiet purlieus of the past.


The Idylls may probably be best considered in their final shape: they are not an epic, but a series of heroic idyllia of the same genre as the heroic idyllia of Theocritus. He wrote long after the natural age of national epic, the age of Homer. He saw the later literary epic rise in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, a poem with many beauties, if rather an archaistic and elaborate revival as a whole. The time for long narrative poems, Theocritus appears to have thought, was past, and he only ventured on the heroic idyllia of Heracles, and certain adventures of the Argonauts. Tennyson, too, from the first believed that his pieces ought to be short. Therefore, though he had a conception of his work as a whole, a conception long mused on, and sketched in various lights, he produced no epic, only a series of epic idyllia. He had a spiritual conception, “an allegory in the distance,” an allegory not to be insisted upon, though its presence was to be felt. No longer, as in youth, did Tennyson intend Merlin to symbolise “the sceptical understanding” (as if one were to “break into blank the gospel of” Herr Kant), or poor Guinevere to stand for the Blessed Reformation, or the Table Round for Liberal Institutions. Mercifully Tennyson never actually allegorised Arthur in that fashion. Later he thought of a musical masque of Arthur, and sketched a scenario. Finally Tennyson dropped both the allegory of Liberal principles and the musical masque in favour of the series of heroic idylls. There was only a “parabolic drift” in the intention. “There is no single fact or incident in the Idylls, however seemingly mystical, which cannot be explained without any mystery or allegory whatever. The Idylls ought to be read (and the right readers never dream of doing anything else) as romantic poems, just like Browning’s Childe Roland, in which the wrong readers (the members of the Browning Society) sought for mystic mountains and marvels. Yet Tennyson had his own interpretation, “a dream of man coming into practical life and ruined by one sin.” That was his “interpretation,” or “allegory in the distance.”

People may be heard objecting to the suggestion of any spiritual interpretation of the Arthur legends, and even to the existence of elementary morality among the Arthurian knights and ladies. There seems to be a notion that “bold bawdry and open manslaughter,” as Roger Ascham said, are the staple of Tennyson’s sources, whether in the mediaeval French, the Welsh, or in Malory’s compilation, chiefly from French sources. Tennyson is accused of “Bowdlerising” these, and of introducing gentleness, courtesy, and conscience into a literature where such qualities were unknown. I must confess myself ignorant of any early and popular, or “primitive” literature, in which human virtues, and the human conscience, do not play their part. Those who object to Tennyson’s handling of the great Arthurian cycle, on the ground that he is too refined and too moral, must either never have read or must long have forgotten even Malory’s romance. Thus we read, in a recent novel, that Lancelot was an homme aux bonnes fortunes, whereas Lancelot was the most loyal of lovers.

Among other critics, Mr Harrison has objected that the Arthurian world of Tennyson “is not quite an ideal world. Therein lies the difficulty. The scene, though not of course historic, has certain historic suggestions and characters.” It is not apparent who the historic characters are, for the real Arthur is but a historic phantasm. “But then, in the midst of so much realism, the knights, from Arthur downwards, talk and act in ways with which we are familiar in modern ethical and psychological novels, but which are as impossible in real mediaeval knights as a Bengal tiger or a Polar bear would be in a drawing-room.” I confess to little acquaintance with modern ethical novels; but real mediaeval knights, and still more the knights of mediaeval romance, were capable of very ethical actions. To halt an army for the protection and comfort of a laundress was a highly ethical action. Perhaps Sir Redvers Buller would do it: Bruce did. Mr Harrison accuses the ladies of the Idylls of soul-bewildering casuistry, like that of women in Middlemarch or Helbeck of Bannisdale. Now I am not reminded by Guinevere, and Elaine, and Enid, of ladies in these ethical novels. But the women of the mediaeval Cours d’Amour (the originals from whom the old romancers drew) were nothing if not casuists. “Spiritual delicacy” (as they understood it) was their delight.

Mr Harrison even argues that Malory’s men lived hot-blooded lives in fierce times, “before an idea had arisen in the world of ‘reverencing conscience,’ ‘leading sweet lives,'” and so on. But he admits that they had “fantastic ideals of ‘honour’ and ‘love.'” As to “fantastic,” that is a matter of opinion, but to have ideals and to live in accordance with them is to “reverence conscience”, which the heroes of the romances are said by Mr Harrison never to have had an idea of doing. They are denied even “amiable words and courtliness.” Need one say that courtliness is the dominant note of mediaeval knights, in history as in romance? With discourtesy Froissart would “head the count of crimes.” After a battle, he says, Scots knights and English would thank each other for a good fight, “not like the Germans.” “And now, I dare say,” said Malory’s Sir Ector, “thou, Sir Lancelot, wast the curtiest knight that ever bare shield, . . . and thou wast the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies.” Observe Sir Lancelot in the difficult pass where the Lily Maid offers her love: “Jesu defend me, for then I rewarded your father and your brother full evil for their great goodness. . . . But because, fair damsel, that ye love me as ye say ye do, I will, for your good will and kindness, show you some goodness, . . . and always while I live to be your true knight.” Here are “amiable words and courtesy.” I cannot agree with Mr Harrison that Malory’s book is merely “a fierce lusty epic.” That was not the opinion of its printer and publisher, Caxton. He produced it as an example of “the gentle and virtuous deeds that some knights used in these days, . . . noble and renowned acts of humanity, gentleness, and chivalry. For herein may be seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, love, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue, and sin. Do after the good and leave the evil.”

In reaction against the bold-faced heroines and sensual amours of some of the old French romances, an ideal of exaggerated asceticism, of stainless chastity, notoriously pervades the portion of Malory’s work which deals with the Holy Grail. Lancelot is distraught when he finds that, by dint of enchantment, he has been made false to Guinevere (Book XI. chap. viii.) After his dreaming vision of the Holy Grail, with the reproachful Voice, Sir Lancelot said, “My sin and my wickedness have brought me great dishonour, . . . and now I see and understand that my old sin hindereth and shameth me.” He was human, the Lancelot of Malory, and “fell to his old love again,” with a heavy heart, and with long penance at the end. How such good knights can be deemed conscienceless and void of courtesy one knows not, except by a survival of the Puritanism of Ascham. But Tennyson found in the book what is in the book–honour, conscience, courtesy, and the hero –

“Whose honour rooted in dishonour stood, And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.”

Malory’s book, which was Tennyson’s chief source, ends by being the tragedy of the conscience of Lancelot. Arthur is dead, or “In Avalon he groweth old.” The Queen and Lancelot might sing, as Lennox reports that Queen Mary did after Darnley’s murder –

“Weel is me
For I am free.”

“Why took they not their pastime?” Because conscience forbade, and Guinevere sends her lover far from her, and both die in religion. Thus Malory’s “fierce lusty epic” is neither so lusty nor so fierce but that it gives Tennyson his keynote: the sin that breaks the fair companionship, and is bitterly repented.

“The knights are almost too polite to kill each other,” the critic urges. In Malory they are sometimes quite too polite to kill each other. Sir Darras has a blood-feud against Sir Tristram, and Sir Tristram is in his dungeon. Sir Darras said, “Wit ye well that Sir Darras shall never destroy such a noble knight as thou art in prison, howbeit that thou hast slain three of my sons, whereby I was greatly aggrieved. But now shalt thou go and thy fellows. . . . All that ye did,” said Sir Darras, “was by force of knighthood, and that was the cause I would not put you to death” (Book IX. chap. xl.)

Tennyson is accused of “emasculating the fierce lusty epic into a moral lesson, as if it were to be performed in a drawing-room by an academy of young ladies”–presided over, I daresay, by “Anglican clergymen.” I know not how any one who has read the Morte d’Arthur can blame Tennyson in the matter. Let Malory and his sources be blamed, if to be moral is to be culpable. A few passages apart, there is no coarseness in Malory; that there are conscience, courtesy, “sweet lives,” “keeping down the base in man,” “amiable words,” and all that Tennyson gives, and, in Mr Harrison’s theory, gives without authority in the romance, my quotations from Malory demonstrate. They are chosen at a casual opening of his book. That there “had not arisen in the world” “the idea of reverencing conscience” before the close of the fifteenth century A.D. is an extraordinary statement for a critic of history to offer.

Mr Harrison makes his protest because “in the conspiracy of silence into which Tennyson’s just fame has hypnotised the critics, it is bare honesty to admit defects.” I think I am not hypnotised, and I do not regard the Idylls as the crown of Tennyson’s work. But it is not his “defect” to have introduced generosity, gentleness, conscience, and chastity where no such things occur in his sources. Take Sir Darras: his position is that of Priam when he meets Achilles, who slew his sons, except that Priam comes as a suppliant; Sir Darras has Tristram in his hands, and may slay him. He is “too polite,” as Mr Harrison says: he is too good a Christian, or too good a gentleman. One would not have given a tripod for the life of Achilles had he fallen into the hands of Priam. But between 1200 B.C. (or so) and the date of Malory, new ideas about “living sweet lives” had arisen. Where and when do they not arise? A British patrol fired on certain Swazis in time of truce. Their lieutenant, who had been absent when this occurred, rode alone to the stronghold of the Swazi king, Sekukoeni, and gave himself up, expecting death by torture. “Go, sir,” said the king; “we too are gentlemen.” The idea of a “sweet life” of honour had dawned even on Sekukoeni: it lights up Malory’s romance, and is reflected in Tennyson’s Idylls, doubtless with some modernism of expression.

That the Idylls represent no real world is certain. That Tennyson modernises and moralises too much, I willingly admit; what I deny is that he introduces gentleness, courtesy, and conscience where his sources have none. Indeed this is not a matter of critical opinion, but of verifiable fact. Any one can read Malory and judge for himself. But the world in which the Idylls move could not be real. For more than a thousand years different races, different ages, had taken hold of the ancient Celtic legends and spiritualised them after their own manner, and moulded them to their own ideals. There may have been a historical Arthur, Comes Britanniae, after the Roman withdrawal. Ye Amherawdyr Arthur, “the Emperor Arthur,” may have lived and fought, and led the Brythons to battle. But there may also have been a Brythonic deity, or culture hero, of the same, or of a similar name, and myths about him may have been assigned to a real Arthur. Again, the Arthur of the old Welsh legends was by no means the blameless king–even in comparatively late French romances he is not blameless. But the process of idealising him went on: still incomplete in Malory’s compilation, where he is often rather otiose and far from royal. Tennyson, for his purpose, completed the idealisation.

As to Guinevere, she was not idealised in the old Welsh rhyme –

“Guinevere, Giant Ogurvan’s daughter, Naughty young, more naughty later.”

Of Lancelot, and her passion for him, the old Welsh has nothing to say. Probably Chretien de Troyes, by a happy blunder or misconception, gave Lancelot his love and his pre-eminent part. Lancelot was confused with Peredur, and Guinevere with the lady of whom Peredur was in quest. The Elaine who becomes by Lancelot the mother of Galahad “was Lancelot’s rightful consort, as one recognises in her name that of Elen, the Empress, whom the story of Peredur” (Lancelot, by the confusion) “gives that hero to wife.” The second Elaine, the maid of Astolat, is another refraction from the original Elen. As to the Grail, it may be a Christianised rendering of one or another of the magical and mystic caldrons of Welsh or Irish legend. There is even an apparent Celtic source of the mysterious fisher king of the Grail romance. {12}

A sketch of the evolution of the Arthurian legends might run thus:-

Sixth to eighth century, growth of myth about an Arthur, real, or supposed to be real.

Tenth century, the Duchies of Normandy and Brittany are in close relations; by the eleventh century Normans know Celtic Arthurian stories.

After, 1066, Normans in contact with the Celtic peoples of this island are in touch with the Arthur tales.

1130-1145, works on Arthurian matter by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

1155, Wace’s French translation of Geoffrey.

1150-1182, Chretien de Troyes writes poems on Arthurian topics.

French prose romances on Arthur, from, say, 1180 to 1250. Those romances reach Wales, and modify, in translations, the original Welsh legends, or, in part, supplant them.

Amplifications and recastings are numerous. In 1485 Caxton publishes Malory’s selections from French and English sources, the whole being Tennyson’s main source, Le Mort d’Arthur. {13}

Thus the Arthur stories, originally Celtic, originally a mass of semi-pagan legend, myth, and marchen, have been retold and rehandled by Norman, Englishman, and Frenchman, taking on new hues, expressing new ideals–religious, chivalrous, and moral. Any poet may work his will on them, and Tennyson’s will was to retain the chivalrous courtesy, generosity, love, and asceticism, while dimly or brightly veiling or illuminating them with his own ideals. After so many processes, from folk-tale to modern idyll, the Arthurian world could not be real, and real it is not. Camelot lies “out of space, out of time,” though the colouring is mainly that of the later chivalry, and “the gleam” on the hues is partly derived from Celtic fancy of various dates, and is partly Tennysonian.

As the Idylls were finally arranged, the first, The Coming of Arthur, is a remarkable proof of Tennyson’s ingenuity in construction. Tales about the birth of Arthur varied. In Malory, Uther Pendragon, the Bretwalda (in later phrase) of Britain, besieges the Duke of Tintagil, who has a fair wife, Ygerne, in another castle. Merlin magically puts on Uther the shape of Ygerne’s husband, and as her husband she receives him. On that night Arthur is begotten by Uther, and the Duke of Tintagil, his mother’s husband, is slain in a sortie. Uther weds Ygerne; both recognise Arthur as their child. However, by the Celtic custom of fosterage the infant is intrusted to Sir Ector as his dalt, or foster-child, and Uther falls in battle. Arthur is later approven king by the adventure of drawing from the stone the magic sword that no other king could move. This adventure answers to Sigmund’s drawing the sword from the Branstock, in the Volsunga Saga, “Now men stand up, and none would fain be the last to lay hand to the sword,” apparently stricken into the pillar by Woden. “But none who came thereto might avail to pull it out, for in nowise would it come away howsoever they tugged at it, but now up comes Sigmund, King Volsung’s son, and sets hand to the sword, and pulls it from the stock, even as if it lay loose before him.” The incident in the Arthurian as in the Volsunga legend is on a par with the Golden Bough, in the sixth book of the AEneid. Only the predestined champion, such as AEneas, can pluck, or break, or cut the bough –

“Ipse volens facilisque sequetur
Si te fata vocant.”

All this ancient popular element in the Arthur story is disregarded by Tennyson. He does not make Uther approach Ygerne in the semblance of her lord, as Zeus approached Alcmena in the semblance of her husband, Amphitryon. He neglects the other ancient test of the proving of Arthur by his success in drawing the sword. The poet’s object is to enfold the origin and birth of Arthur in a spiritual mystery. This is deftly accomplished by aid of the various versions of the tale that reach King Leodogran when Arthur seeks the hand of his daughter Guinevere, for Arthur’s title to the crown is still disputed, so Leodogran makes inquiries. The answers first leave it dubious whether Arthur is son of Gorlois, husband of Ygerne, or of Uther, who slew Gorlois and married her:-

“Enforced she was to wed him in her tears.”

The Celtic custom of fosterage is overlooked, and Merlin gives the child to Anton, not as the customary dalt, but to preserve the babe from danger. Queen Bellicent then tells Leodogran, from the evidence of Bleys, Merlin’s master in necromancy, the story of Arthur’s miraculous advent.

“And down the wave and in the flame was borne A naked babe, and rode to Merlin’s feet, Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried ‘The King! Here is an heir for Uther!'”

But Merlin, when asked by Bellicent to corroborate the statement of Bleys, merely

“Answer’d in riddling triplets of old time.”

Finally, Leodogran’s faith is confirmed by a vision. Thus doubtfully, amidst rumour and portent, cloud and spiritual light, comes Arthur: “from the great deep” he comes, and in as strange fashion, at the end, “to the great deep he goes”–a king to be accepted in faith or rejected by doubt. Arthur and his ideal are objects of belief. All goes well while the knights hold that

“The King will follow Christ, and we the King, In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing.”

In history we find the same situation in the France of 1429 –

“The King will follow Jeanne, and we the King.”

While this faith held, all went well; when the king ceased to follow, the spell was broken,–the Maid was martyred. In this sense the poet conceives the coming of Arthur, a sign to be spoken against, a test of high purposes, a belief redeeming and ennobling till faith fails, and the little rift within the lute, the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, makes discord of the music. As matter of legend, it is to be understood that Guinevere did not recognise Arthur when first he rode below her window –

“Since he neither wore on helm or shield The golden symbol of his kinglihood.”

But Lancelot was sent to bring the bride –

“And return’d
Among the flowers, in May, with Guinevere.”

Then their long love may have begun, as in the story of Tristram sent to bring Yseult to be the bride of King Mark. In Malory, however, Lancelot does not come on the scene till after Arthur’s wedding and return from his conquering expedition to Rome. Then Lancelot wins renown, “wherefore Queen Guinevere had him in favour above all other knights; and in certain he loved the Queen again above all other ladies damosels of his life.” Lancelot, as we have seen, is practically a French creation, adopted to illustrate the chivalrous theory of love, with its bitter fruit. Though not of the original Celtic stock of legend, Sir Lancelot makes the romance what it is, and draws down the tragedy that originally turned on the sin of Arthur himself, the sin that gave birth to the traitor Modred. But the mediaeval romancers disguised that form of the story, and the process of idealising Arthur reached such heights in the middle ages that Tennyson thought himself at liberty to paint the Flos Regum, “the blameless King.” He followed the Brut ab Arthur. “In short, God has not made since Adam was, the man more perfect than Arthur.” This is remote from the Arthur of the oldest Celtic legends, but justifies the poet in adapting Arthur to the ideal hero of the Idylls:-

“Ideal manhood closed in real man,
Rather than that grey king, whose name, a ghost, Streams like a cloud, man-shaped, from mountain-peak, And cleaves to cairn and cromlech still; or him Of Geoffrey’s book, or him of Malleor’s, one Touched by the adulterous finger of a time That hovered between war and wantonness, And crownings and dethronements.”

The poetical beauties of The Coming of Arthur excel those of Gareth and Lynette. The sons of Lot and Bellicent seem to have been originally regarded as the incestuous offspring of Arthur and his sister, the wife of King Lot. Next it was represented that Arthur was ignorant of the relationship. Mr Rhys supposes that the mythical scandal (still present in Malory as a sin of ignorance) arose from blending the Celtic Arthur (as Culture Hero) with an older divine personage, such as Zeus, who marries his sister Hera. Marriages of brother and sister are familiar in the Egyptian royal house, and that of the Incas. But the poet has a perfect right to disregard a scandalous myth which, obviously crystallised later about the figure of the mythical Celtic Arthur, was an incongruous accretion to his legend. Gareth, therefore, is merely Arthur’s nephew, not son, in the poem, as are Gawain and the traitor Modred. The story seems to be rather mediaeval French than Celtic–a mingling of the spirit of fabliau and popular fairy tale. The poet has added to its lightness, almost frivolity, the description of the unreal city of Camelot, built to music, as when

“Ilion, like a mist, rose into towers.”

He has also brought in the allegory of Death, which, when faced, proves to be “a blooming boy” behind the mask. The courtesy and prowess of Lancelot lead up to the later development of his character.

In The Marriage of Geraint, a rumour has already risen about Lancelot and the Queen, darkening the Court, and presaging

“The world’s loud whisper breaking into storm.”

For this reason Geraint removes Enid from Camelot to his own land– the poet thus early leading up to the sin and the doom of Lancelot. But this motive does not occur in the Welsh story of Enid and Geraint, which Tennyson has otherwise followed with unwonted closeness. The tale occurs in French romances in various forms, but it appears to have returned, by way of France and coloured with French influences, to Wales, where it is one of the later Mabinogion. The characters are Celtic, and Nud, father of Edyrn, Geraint’s defeated antagonist, appears to be recognised by Mr Rhys as “the Celtic Zeus.” The manners and the tournaments are French. In the Welsh tale Geraint and Enid are bedded in Arthur’s own chamber, which seems to be a symbolic commutation of the jus primae noctis a custom of which the very existence is disputed. This unseemly antiquarian detail, of course, is omitted in the Idyll.

An abstract of the Welsh tale will show how closely Tennyson here follows his original. News is brought into Arthur’s Court of the appearance of a white stag. The king arranges a hunt, and Guinevere asks leave to go and watch the sport. Next morning she cannot be wakened, though the tale does not aver, like the Idyll, that she was

“Lost in sweet dreams, and dreaming of her love For Lancelot.”

Guinevere wakes late, and rides through a ford of Usk to the hunt. Geraint follows, “a golden-hilted sword was at his side, and a robe and a surcoat of satin were upon him, and two shoes of leather upon his feet, and around him was a scarf of blue purple, at each corner of which was a golden apple”:-

“But Guinevere lay late into the morn, Lost in sweet dreams, and dreaming of her love For Lancelot, and forgetful of the hunt; But rose at last, a single maiden with her, Took horse, and forded Usk, and gain’d the wood; There, on a little knoll beside it, stay’d Waiting to hear the hounds; but heard instead A sudden sound of hoofs, for Prince Geraint, Late also, wearing neither hunting-dress Nor weapon, save a golden-hilted brand,
Came quickly flashing thro’ the shallow ford Behind them, and so gallop’d up the knoll. A purple scarf, at either end whereof
There swung an apple of the purest gold, Sway’d round about him, as he gallop’d up To join them, glancing like a dragon-fly In summer suit and silks of holiday.”

The encounter with the dwarf, the lady, and the knight follows. The prose of the Mabinogi may be compared with the verse of Tennyson:-

“Geraint,” said Gwenhwyvar, “knowest thou the name of that tall knight yonder?” “I know him not,” said he, “and the strange armour that he wears prevents my either seeing his face or his features.” “Go, maiden,” said Gwenhwyvar, “and ask the dwarf who that knight is.” Then the maiden went up to the dwarf; and the dwarf waited for the maiden, when he saw her coming towards him. And the maiden inquired of the dwarf who the knight was. “I will not tell thee,” he answered. “Since thou art so churlish as not to tell me,” said she, “I will ask him himself.” “Thou shalt not ask him, by my faith,” said he. “Wherefore?” said she. “Because thou art not of honour sufficient to befit thee to speak to my Lord.” Then the maiden turned her horse’s head towards the knight, upon which the dwarf struck her with the whip that was in his hand across the face and the eyes, until the blood flowed forth. And the maiden, through the hurt she received from the blow, returned to Gwenhwyvar, complaining of the pain. “Very rudely has the dwarf treated thee,” said Geraint. “I will go myself to know who the knight is.” “Go,” said Gwenhwyvar. And Geraint went up to the dwarf. “Who is yonder knight?” said Geraint. “I will not tell thee,” said the dwarf. “Then will I ask him himself,” said he. “That wilt thou not, by my faith,” said the dwarf; “thou art not honourable enough to speak with my Lord.” Said Geraint, “I have spoken with men of equal rank with him.” And he turned his horse’s head towards the knight; but the dwarf overtook him, and struck him as he had done the maiden, so that the blood coloured the scarf that Geraint wore. Then Geraint put his hand upon the hilt of his sword, but he took counsel with himself, and considered that it would be no vengeance for him to slay the dwarf, and to be attacked unarmed by the armed knight, so he returned to where Gwenhwyvar was.

“And while they listen’d for the distant hunt, And chiefly for the baying of Cavall,
King Arthur’s hound of deepest mouth, there rode Full slowly by a knight, lady, and dwarf; Whereof the dwarf lagg’d latest, and the knight Had vizor up, and show’d a youthful face, Imperious, and of haughtiest lineaments. And Guinevere, not mindful of his face
In the King’s hall, desired his name, and sent Her maiden to demand it of the dwarf;
Who being vicious, old and irritable, And doubling all his master’s vice of pride, Made answer sharply that she should not know. ‘Then will I ask it of himself,’ she said. ‘Nay, by my faith, thou shalt not,’ cried the dwarf; ‘Thou art not worthy ev’n to speak of him’; And when she put her horse toward the knight, Struck at her with his whip, and she return’d Indignant to the Queen; whereat Geraint
Exclaiming, ‘Surely I will learn the name,’ Made sharply to the dwarf, and ask’d it of him, Who answer’d as before; and when the Prince Had put his horse in motion toward the knight, Struck at him with his whip, and cut his cheek. The Prince’s blood spirted upon the scarf, Dyeing it; and his quick, instinctive hand Caught at the hilt, as to abolish him:
But he, from his exceeding manfulness And pure nobility of temperament,
Wroth to be wroth at such a worm, refrain’d From ev’n a word.”

The self-restraint of Geraint, who does not slay the dwarf,

“From his exceeding manfulness
And pure nobility of temperament,”

may appear “too polite,” and too much in accord with the still undiscovered idea of “leading sweet lives.” However, the uninvented idea does occur in the Welsh original: “Then Geraint put his hand upon the hilt of his sword, but he took counsel with himself, and considered that it would be no vengeance for him to slay the dwarf,” while he also reflects that he would be “attacked unarmed by the armed knight.” Perhaps Tennyson may be blamed for omitting this obvious motive for self-restraint. Geraint therefore follows the knight in hope of finding arms, and arrives at the town all busy with preparations for the tournament of the sparrow-hawk. This was a challenge sparrow-hawk: the knight had won it twice, and if he won it thrice it would be his to keep. The rest, in the tale, is exactly followed in the Idyll. Geraint is entertained by the ruined Yniol. The youth bears the “costrel” full of “good purchased mead” (the ruined Earl not brewing for himself), and Enid carries the manchet bread in her veil, “old, and beginning to be worn out.” All Tennyson’s own is the beautiful passage –

“And while he waited in the castle court, The voice of Enid, Yniol’s daughter, rang Clear thro’ the open casement of the hall, Singing; and as the sweet voice of a bird, Heard by the lander in a lonely isle,
Moves him to think what kind of bird it is That sings so delicately clear, and make Conjecture of the plumage and the form;
So the sweet voice of Enid moved Geraint; And made him like a man abroad at morn
When first the liquid note beloved of men Comes flying over many a windy wave
To Britain, and in April suddenly
Breaks from a coppice gemm’d with green and red, And he suspends his converse with a friend, Or it may be the labour of his hands,
To think or say, ‘There is the nightingale’; So fared it with Geraint, who thought and said, ‘Here, by God’s grace, is the one voice for me.'”

Yniol frankly admits in the tale that he was in the wrong in the quarrel with his nephew. The poet, however, gives him the right, as is natural. The combat is exactly followed in the Idyll, as is Geraint’s insistence in carrying his bride to Court in her faded silks. Geraint, however, leaves Court with Enid, not because of the scandal about Lancelot, but to do his duty in his own country. He becomes indolent and uxorious, and Enid deplores his weakness, and awakes his suspicions, thus:-

And one morning in the summer time they were upon their couch, and Geraint lay upon the edge of it. And Enid was without sleep in the apartment which had windows of glass. And the sun shone upon the couch. And the clothes had slipped from off his arms and his breast, and he was asleep. Then she gazed upon the marvellous beauty of his appearance, and she said, “Alas, and am I the cause that these arms and this breast have lost their glory and the warlike fame which they once so richly enjoyed!” And as she said this, the tears dropped from her eyes, and they fell upon his breast. And the tears she shed, and the words she had spoken, awoke him; and another thing contributed to awaken him, and that was the idea that it was not in thinking of him that she spoke thus, but that it was because she loved some other man more than him, and that she wished for other society, and thereupon Geraint was troubled in his mind, and he called his squire; and when he came to him, “Go quickly,” said he, “and prepare my horse and my arms, and make them ready. And do thou arise,” said he to Enid, “and apparel thyself; and cause thy horse to be accoutred, and clothe thee in the worst riding-dress that thou hast in thy possession. And evil betide me,” said he, “if thou returnest here until thou knowest whether I have lost my strength so completely as thou didst say. And if it be so, it will then be easy for thee to seek the society thou didst wish for of him of whom thou wast thinking.” So she arose, and clothed herself in her meanest garments. “I know nothing, Lord,” said she, “of thy meaning.” “Neither wilt thou know at this time,” said he.

“At last, it chanced that on a summer morn (They sleeping each by either) the new sun Beat thro’ the blindless casement of the room, And heated the strong warrior in his dreams; Who, moving, cast the coverlet aside,
And bared the knotted column of his throat, The massive square of his heroic breast, And arms on which the standing muscle sloped, As slopes a wild brook o’er a little stone, Running too vehemently to break upon it. And Enid woke and sat beside the couch,
Admiring him, and thought within herself, Was ever man so grandly made as he?
Then, like a shadow, past the people’s talk And accusation of uxoriousness
Across her mind, and bowing over him, Low to her own heart piteously she said:

‘O noble breast and all-puissant arms, Am I the cause, I the poor cause that men Reproach you, saying all your force is gone? I AM the cause, because I dare not speak And tell him what I think and what they say. And yet I hate that he should linger here; I cannot love my lord and not his name.
Far liefer had I gird his harness on him, And ride with him to battle and stand by, And watch his mightful hand striking great blows At caitiffs and at wrongers of the world. Far better were I laid in the dark earth, Not hearing any more his noble voice,
Not to be folded more in these dear arms, And darken’d from the high light in his eyes, Than that my lord thro’ me should suffer shame. Am I so bold, and could I so stand by,
And see my dear lord wounded in the strife, Or maybe pierced to death before mine eyes, And yet not dare to tell him what I think, And how men slur him, saying all his force Is melted into mere effeminacy?
O me, I fear that I am no true wife.’

Half inwardly, half audibly she spoke, And the strong passion in her made her weep True tears upon his broad and naked breast, And these awoke him, and by great mischance He heard but fragments of her later words, And that she fear’d she was not a true wife. And then he thought, ‘In spite of all my care, For all my pains, poor man, for all my pains, She is not faithful to me, and I see her Weeping for some gay knight in Arthur’s hall.’ Then tho’ he loved and reverenced her too much To dream she could be guilty of foul act, Right thro’ his manful breast darted the pang That makes a man, in the sweet face of her Whom he loves most, lonely and miserable. At this he hurl’d his huge limbs out of bed, And shook his drowsy squire awake and cried, ‘My charger and her palfrey’; then to her, ‘I will ride forth into the wilderness;
For tho’ it seems my spurs are yet to win, I have not fall’n so low as some would wish. And thou, put on thy worst and meanest dress And ride with me.’ And Enid ask’d, amazed, ‘If Enid errs, let Enid learn her fault.’ But he, ‘I charge thee, ask not, but obey.’ Then she bethought her of a faded silk,
A faded mantle and a faded veil,
And moving toward a cedarn cabinet, Wherein she kept them folded reverently
With sprigs of summer laid between the folds, She took them, and array’d herself therein, Remembering when first he came on her
Drest in that dress, and how he loved her in it, And all her foolish fears about the dress, And all his journey to her, as himself
Had told her, and their coming to the court.”


“Arms on which the standing muscle sloped, As slopes a wild brook o’er a little stone, Running too vehemently to break upon it,”

is suggested perhaps by Theocritus–“The muscles on his brawny arms stood out like rounded rocks that the winter torrent has rolled and worn smooth, in the great swirling stream” (Idyll xxii.)

The second part of the poem follows the original less closely. Thus Limours, in the tale, is not an old suitor of Enid; Edyrn does not appear to the rescue; certain cruel games, veiled in a magic mist, occur in the tale, and are omitted by the poet; “Gwyffert petit, so called by the Franks, whom the Cymry call the Little King,” in the tale, is not a character in the Idyll, and, generally, the gross Celtic exaggerations of Geraint’s feats are toned down by Tennyson. In other respects, as when Geraint eats the mowers’ dinner, the tale supplies the materials. But it does not dwell tenderly on the reconciliation. The tale is more or less in the vein of “patient Grizel,” and he who told it is more concerned with the fighting than with amoris redintegratio, and the sufferings of Enid. The Idyll is enriched with many beautiful pictures from nature, such as this:-

“But at the flash and motion of the man They vanish’d panic-stricken, like a shoal Of darting fish, that on a summer morn
Adown the crystal dykes at Camelot
Come slipping o’er their shadows on the sand, But if a man who stands upon the brink
But lift a shining hand against the sun, There is not left the twinkle of a fin
Betwixt the cressy islets white in flower; So, scared but at the motion of the man, Fled all the boon companions of the Earl, And left him lying in the public way.”

In Balin and Balan Tennyson displays great constructive power, and remarkable skill in moulding the most recalcitrant materials. Balin or Balyn, according to Mr Rhys, is the Belinus of Geoffrey of Monmouth, “whose name represents the Celtic divinity described in Latin as Apollo Belenus or Belinus.” {14} In Geoffrey, Belinus, euphemerised, or reduced from god to hero, has a brother, Brennius, the Celtic Bran, King of Britain from Caithness to the Humber. Belinus drives Bran into exile. “Thus it is seen that Belinus or Balyn was, mythologically speaking, the natural enemy” (as Apollo Belinus, the radiant god) “of the dark divinity Bran or Balan.”

If this view be correct, the two brothers answer to the good and bad principles of myths like that of the Huron Iouskeha the Sun, and Anatensic the Moon, or rather Taouiscara and Iouskeha, the hostile brothers, Black and White. {15} These mythical brethren are, in Malory, two knights of Northumberland, Balin the wild and Balan. Their adventures are mixed up with a hostile Lady of the Lake, whom Balin slays in Arthur’s presence, with a sword which none but Balin can draw from sheath; and with an evil black-faced knight Garlon, invisible at will, whom Balin slays in the castle of the knight’s brother, King Pellam. Pursued from room to room by Pellam, Balin finds himself in a chamber full of relics of Joseph of Arimathea. There he seizes a spear, the very spear with which the Roman soldier pierced the side of the Crucified, and wounds Pellam. The castle falls in ruins “through that dolorous stroke.” Pellam becomes the maimed king, who can only be healed by the Holy Grail. Apparently Celtic myths of obscure antiquity have been adapted in France, and interwoven with fables about Joseph of Arimathea and Christian mysteries. It is not possible here to go into the complicated learning of the subject. In Malory, Balin, after dealing the dolorous stroke, borrows a strange shield from a knight, and, thus accoutred, meets his brother Balan, who does not recognise him. They fight, both die and are buried in one tomb, and Galahad later achieves the adventure of winning Balin’s sword. “Thus endeth the tale of Balyn and of Balan, two brethren born in Northumberland, good knights,” says Malory, simply, and unconscious of the strange mythological medley under the coat armour of romance.

The materials, then, seemed confused and obdurate, but Tennyson works them into the course of the fatal love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and into the spiritual texture of the Idylls. Balin has been expelled from Court for the wildness that gives him his name, Balin le Sauvage. He had buffeted a squire in hall. He and Balan await all challengers beside a well. Arthur encounters and dismounts them. Balin devotes himself to self-conquest. Then comes tidings that Pellam, of old leagued with Lot against Arthur, has taken to religion, collects relics, claims descent from Joseph of Arimathea, and owns the sacred spear that pierced the side of Christ. But Garlon is with him, the knight invisible, who appears to come from an Irish source, or at least has a parallel in Irish legend. This Garlon has an unknightly way of killing men by viewless blows from the rear. Balan goes to encounter Garlon. Balin remains, learning courtesy, modelling himself on Lancelot, and gaining leave to bear Guinevere’s Crown Matrimonial for his cognisance,–which, of course, Balan does not know, –

“As golden earnest of a better life.”

But Balin sees reason to think that Lancelot and Guinevere love even too well.

“Then chanced, one morning, that Sir Balin sat Close-bower’d in that garden nigh the hall. A walk of roses ran from door to door;
A walk of lilies crost it to the bower: And down that range of roses the great Queen Came with slow steps, the morning on her face; And all in shadow from the counter door
Sir Lancelot as to meet her, then at once, As if he saw not, glanced aside, and paced The long white walk of lilies toward the bower. Follow’d the Queen; Sir Balin heard her ‘Prince, Art thou so little loyal to thy Queen,
As pass without good morrow to thy Queen?’ To whom Sir Lancelot with his eyes on earth, ‘Fain would I still be loyal to the Queen.’ ‘Yea so,’ she said, ‘but so to pass me by – So loyal scarce is loyal to thyself,
Whom all men rate the king of courtesy. Let be: ye stand, fair lord, as in a dream.’

Then Lancelot with his hand among the flowers, ‘Yea–for a dream. Last night methought I saw That maiden Saint who stands with lily in hand In yonder shrine. All round her prest the dark, And all the light upon her silver face
Flow’d from the spiritual lily that she held. Lo! these her emblems drew mine eyes–away: For see, how perfect-pure! As light a flush As hardly tints the blossom of the quince Would mar their charm of stainless maidenhood.’

‘Sweeter to me,’ she said, ‘this garden rose Deep-hued and many-folded sweeter still
The wild-wood hyacinth and the bloom of May. Prince, we have ridd’n before among the flowers In those fair days–not all as cool as these, Tho’ season-earlier. Art thou sad? or sick? Our noble King will send thee his own leech – Sick? or for any matter anger’d at me?’

Then Lancelot lifted his large eyes; they dwelt Deep-tranced on hers, and could not fall: her hue Changed at his gaze: so turning side by side They past, and Balin started from his bower.

‘Queen? subject? but I see not what I see. Damsel and lover? hear not what I hear.
My father hath begotten me in his wrath. I suffer from the things before me, know, Learn nothing; am not worthy to be knight; A churl, a clown!’ and in him gloom on gloom Deepen’d: he sharply caught his lance and shield, Nor stay’d to crave permission of the King, But, mad for strange adventure, dash’d away.”

Balin is “disillusioned,” his faith in the Ideal is shaken if not shattered. He rides at adventure. Arriving at the half-ruined castle of Pellam, that dubious devotee, he hears Garlon insult Guinevere, but restrains himself. Next day, again insulted for bearing “the crown scandalous” on his shield, he strikes Garlon down, is pursued, seizes the sacred spear, and escapes. Vivien meets him in the woods, drops scandal in his ears, and so maddens him that he defaces his shield with the crown of Guinevere. Her song, and her words,

“This fire of Heaven,
This old sun-worship, boy, will rise again, And beat the cross to earth, and break the King And all his Table,”

might be forced into an allegory of the revived pride of life, at the Renaissance and after. The maddened yells of Balin strike the ear of Balan, who thinks he has met the foul knight Garlon, that

“Tramples on the goodly shield to show His loathing of our Order and the Queen.”

They fight, fatally wound, and finally recognise each other: Balan trying to restore Balin’s faith in Guinevere, who is merely slandered by Garlon and Vivien. Balin acknowledges that his wildness has been their common bane, and they die, “either locked in either’s arms.”

There is nothing in Malory, nor in any other source, so far as I am aware, which suggested to Tennyson the clou of the situation–the use of Guinevere’s crown as a cognisance by Balin. This device enables the poet to weave the rather confused and unintelligible adventures of Balin and Balan into the scheme, and to make it a stage in the progress of his fable. That Balin was reckless and wild Malory bears witness, but his endeavours to conquer himself and reach the ideal set by Lancelot are Tennyson’s addition, with all the tragedy of Balin’s disenchantment and despair. The strange fantastic house of Pellam, full of the most sacred things,

“In which he scarce could spy the Christ for Saints,”

yet sheltering the human fiend Garlon, is supplied by Malory, whose predecessors probably blended more than one myth of the old Cymry into the romance, washed over with Christian colouring. As Malory tells this part of the tale it is perhaps more strange and effective than in the Idyll. The introduction of Vivien into this adventure is wholly due to Tennyson: her appearance here leads up to her triumph in the poem which follows, Merlin and Vivien.

The nature and origin of Merlin are something of a mystery. Hints and rumours of Merlin, as of Arthur, stream from hill and grave as far north as Tweedside. If he was a historical person, myths of magic might crystallise round him, as round Virgil in Italy. The process would be the easier in a country where the practices of Druidry still lingered, and revived after the retreat of the Romans. The mediaeval romancers invented a legend that Merlin was a virgin- born child of Satan. In Tennyson he may be guessed to represent the fabled esoteric lore of old religions, with their vague pantheisms, and such magic as the tapas of Brahmanic legends. He is wise with a riddling evasive wisdom: the builder of Camelot, the prophet, a shadow of Druidry clinging to the Christian king. His wisdom cannot avail him: if he beholds “his own mischance with a glassy countenance,” he cannot avoid his shapen fate. He becomes assotted of Vivien, and goes open-eyed to his doom.

The enchantress, Vivien, is one of that dubious company of Ladies of the Lake, now friendly, now treacherous. Probably these ladies are the fairies of popular Celtic tradition, taken up into the more elaborate poetry of Cymric literature and mediaeval romance. Mr Rhys traces Vivien, or Nimue, or Nyneue, back, through a series of palaeographic changes and errors, to Rhiannon, wife of Pwyll, a kind of lady of the lake he thinks, but the identification is not very satisfactory. Vivien is certainly “one of the damsels of the lake” in Malory, and the damsels of the lake seem to be lake fairies, with all their beguilements and strange unstable loves. “And always Merlin lay about the lady to have her maidenhood, and she was ever passing weary of him, and fain would have been delivered of him, for she was afraid of him because he was a devil’s son. . . . So by her subtle working she made Merlin to go under that stone to let her wit of the marvels there, but she wrought so there for him that he came never out for all the craft he could do. And so she departed and left Merlin.” The sympathy of Malory is not with the enchanter. In the Idylls, as finally published, Vivien is born on a battlefield of death, with a nature perverted, and an instinctive hatred of the good. Wherefore she leaves the Court of King Mark to make mischief in Camelot. She is, in fact, the ideal minx, a character not elsewhere treated by Tennyson:-

“She hated all the knights, and heard in thought Their lavish comment when her name was named. For once, when Arthur walking all alone, Vext at a rumour issued from herself
Of some corruption crept among his knights, Had met her, Vivien, being greeted fair, Would fain have wrought upon his cloudy mood With reverent eyes mock-loyal, shaken voice, And flutter’d adoration, and at last
With dark sweet hints of some who prized him more Than who should prize him most; at which the King Had gazed upon her blankly and gone by:
But one had watch’d, and had not held his peace: It made the laughter of an afternoon
That Vivien should attempt the blameless King. And after that, she set herself to gain
Him, the most famous man of all those times, Merlin, who knew the range of all their arts, Had built the King his havens, ships, and halls, Was also Bard, and knew the starry heavens; The people call’d him Wizard; whom at first She play’d about with slight and sprightly talk, And vivid smiles, and faintly-venom’d points Of slander, glancing here and grazing there; And yielding to his kindlier moods, the Seer Would watch her at her petulance, and play, Ev’n when they seem’d unloveable, and laugh As those that watch a kitten; thus he grew Tolerant of what he half disdain’d, and she, Perceiving that she was but half disdain’d, Began to break her sports with graver fits, Turn red or pale, would often when they met Sigh fully, or all-silent gaze upon him
With such a fixt devotion, that the old man, Tho’ doubtful, felt the flattery, and at times Would flatter his own wish in age for love, And half believe her true: for thus at times He waver’d; but that other clung to him, Fixt in her will, and so the seasons went.”

Vivien is modern enough–if any type of character is modern: at all events there is no such Blanche Amory of a girl in the old legends and romances. In these Merlin fatigues the lady by his love; she learns his arts, and gets rid of him as she can. His forebodings in the Idyll contain a magnificent image:-

“There lay she all her length and kiss’d his feet, As if in deepest reverence and in love.
A twist of gold was round her hair; a robe Of samite without price, that more exprest Than hid her, clung about her lissome limbs, In colour like the satin-shining palm
On sallows in the windy gleams of March: And while she kiss’d them, crying, ‘Trample me, Dear feet, that I have follow’d thro’ the world, And I will pay you worship; tread me down And I will kiss you for it’; he was mute: So dark a forethought roll’d about his brain, As on a dull day in an Ocean cave
The blind wave feeling round his long sea-hall In silence.”

We think of the blinded Cyclops groping round his cave, like “the blind wave feeling round his long sea-hall.”

The richness, the many shining contrasts and immortal lines in Vivien, seem almost too noble for a subject not easily redeemed, and the picture of the ideal Court lying in full corruption. Next to Elaine, Jowett wrote that he “admired Vivien the most (the naughty one), which seems to me a work of wonderful power and skill. It is most elegant and fanciful. I am not surprised at your Delilah beguiling the wise man; she is quite equal to it.” The dramatic versatility of Tennyson’s genius, his power of creating the most various characters, is nowhere better displayed than in the contrast between the Vivien and the Elaine. Vivien is a type, her adventure is of a nature, which he has not elsewhere handled. Thackeray, who admired the Idylls so enthusiastically, might have recognised in Vivien a character not unlike some of his own, as dark as Becky Sharp, more terrible in her selfishness than that Beatrix Esmond who is still a paragon, and, in her creator’s despite, a queen of hearts. In Elaine, on the other hand, Tennyson has drawn a girl so innocently passionate, and told a tale of love that never found his earthly close, so delicately beautiful, that we may perhaps place this Idyll the highest of his poems on love, and reckon it the gem of the Idylls, the central diamond in the diamond crown. Reading Elaine once more, after an interval of years, one is captivated by its grace, its pathos, its nobility. The poet had touched on some unidentified form of the story, long before, in The Lady of Shalott. That poem had the mystery of romance, but, in human interest, could not compete with Elaine, if indeed any poem of Tennyson’s can be ranked with this matchless Idyll.

The mere invention, and, as we may say, charpentage, are of the first order. The materials in Malory, though beautiful, are simple, and left a field for the poet’s invention. {16}

Arthur, with the Scots and Northern knights, means to encounter all comers at a Whitsuntide tourney. Guinevere is ill, and cannot go to the jousts, while Lancelot makes excuse that he is not healed of a wound. “Wherefore the King was heavy and passing wroth, and so he departed towards Winchester.” The Queen then blamed Lancelot: people will say they deceive Arthur. “Madame,” said Sir Lancelot, “I allow your wit; it is of late come that ye were wise.” In the Idyll Guinevere speaks as if their early loves had been as conspicuous as, according to George Buchanan, were those of Queen Mary and Bothwell. Lancelot will go to the tourney, and, despite Guinevere’s warning, will take part against Arthur and his own fierce Northern kinsmen. He rides to Astolat–“that is, Gylford”–where Arthur sees him. He borrows the blank shield of “Sir Torre,” and the company of his brother Sir Lavaine. Elaine “cast such a love unto Sir Lancelot that she would never withdraw her love, wherefore she died.” At her prayer, and for better disguise (as he had never worn a lady’s favour), Lancelot carried her scarlet pearl-embroidered sleeve in his helmet, and left his shield in Elaine’s keeping. The tourney passes as in the poem, Gawain recognising Lancelot, but puzzled by the favour he wears. The wounded Lancelot “thought to do what he might while he might endure.” When he is offered the prize he is so sore hurt that he “takes no force of no honour.” He rides into a wood, where Lavaine draws forth the spear. Lavaine brings Lancelot to the hermit, once a knight. “I have seen the day,” says the hermit, “I would have loved him the worse, because he was against my lord, King Arthur, for some time. I was one of the fellowship of the Round Table, but I thank God now I am otherwise disposed.” Gawain, seeking the wounded knight, comes to Astolat, where Elaine declares “he is the man in the world that I first loved, and truly he is the last that ever I shall love.” Gawain, on seeing the shield, tells Elaine that the wounded knight is Lancelot, and she goes to seek him and Lavaine. Gawain does not pay court to Elaine, nor does Arthur rebuke him, as in the poem. When Guinevere heard that Lancelot bore another lady’s favour, “she was nigh out of her mind for wrath,” and expressed her anger to Sir Bors, for Gawain had spoken of the maid of Astolat. Bors tells this to Lancelot, who is tended by Elaine. “‘But I well see,’ said Sir Bors, ‘by her diligence about you that she loveth you entirely.’ ‘That me repenteth,’ said Sir Lancelot. Said Sir Bors, ‘Sir, she is not the first that hath lost her pain upon you, and that is the more pity.'” When Lancelot recovers, and returns to Astolat, she declares her love with the frankness of ladies in mediaeval romance. “Have mercy upon me and suffer me not to die for thy love.” Lancelot replies with the courtesy and the offers of service which became him. “Of all this,” said the maiden, “I will none; for but if ye will wed me, or be my paramour at the least, wit you well, Sir Lancelot, my good days are done.”

This was a difficult pass for the poet, living in other days of other manners. His art appears in the turn which he gives to Elaine’s declaration:-

“But when Sir Lancelot’s deadly hurt was whole, To Astolat returning rode the three.
There morn by morn, arraying her sweet self In that wherein she deem’d she look’d her best, She came before Sir Lancelot, for she thought ‘If I be loved, these are my festal robes, If not, the victim’s flowers before he fall.’ And Lancelot ever prest upon the maid
That she should ask some goodly gift of him For her own self or hers; ‘and do not shun To speak the wish most near to your true heart; Such service have ye done me, that I make My will of yours, and Prince and Lord am I In mine own land, and what I will I can.’

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