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Then like a ghost she lifted up her face, But like a ghost without the power to speak. And Lancelot saw that she withheld her wish, And bode among them yet a little space
Till he should learn it; and one morn it chanced He found her in among the garden yews,
And said, ‘Delay no longer, speak your wish, Seeing I go to-day’: then out she brake: ‘Going? and we shall never see you more. And I must die for want of one bold word.’ ‘Speak: that I live to hear,’ he said, ‘is yours.’ Then suddenly and passionately she spoke: ‘I have gone mad. I love you: let me die.’ ‘Ah, sister,’ answer’d Lancelot, ‘what is this?’ And innocently extending her white arms, ‘Your love,’ she said, ‘your love–to be your wife.’ And Lancelot answer’d, ‘Had I chosen to wed, I had been wedded earlier, sweet Elaine: But now there never will be wife of mine.’ ‘No, no’ she cried, ‘I care not to be wife, But to be with you still, to see your face, To serve you, and to follow you thro’ the world.’ And Lancelot answer’d, ‘Nay, the world, the world, All ear and eye, with such a stupid heart To interpret ear and eye, and such a tongue To blare its own interpretation–nay,
Full ill then should I quit your brother’s love, And your good father’s kindness.’ And she said, ‘Not to be with you, not to see your face – Alas for me then, my good days are done.'”

So she dies, and is borne down Thames to London, the fairest corpse, “and she lay as though she had smiled.” Her letter is read. “Ye might have showed her,” said the Queen, “some courtesy and gentleness that might have preserved her life;” and so the two are reconciled.

Such, in brief, is the tender old tale of true love, with the shining courtesy of Lavaine and the father of the maid, who speak no word of anger against Lancelot. “For since first I saw my lord, Sir Lancelot,” says Lavaine, “I could never depart from him, nor nought I will, if I may follow him: she doth as I do.” To the simple and moving story Tennyson adds, by way of ornament, the diamonds, the prize of the tourney, and the manner of their finding:-

“For Arthur, long before they crown’d him King, Roving the trackless realms of Lyonnesse, Had found a glen, gray boulder and black tarn. A horror lived about the tarn, and clave Like its own mists to all the mountain side: For here two brothers, one a king, had met And fought together; but their names were lost; And each had slain his brother at a blow; And down they fell and made the glen abhorr’d: And there they lay till all their bones were bleach’d, And lichen’d into colour with the crags: And he, that once was king, had on a crown Of diamonds, one in front, and four aside. And Arthur came, and labouring up the pass, All in a misty moonshine, unawares
Had trodden that crown’d skeleton, and the skull Brake from the nape, and from the skull the crown Roll’d into light, and turning on its rims Fled like a glittering rivulet to the tarn: And down the shingly scaur he plunged, and caught, And set it on his head, and in his heart Heard murmurs, ‘Lo, thou likewise shalt be King.'”

The diamonds reappear in the scene of Guinevere’s jealousy:-

“All in an oriel on the summer side, Vine-clad, of Arthur’s palace toward the stream, They met, and Lancelot kneeling utter’d, ‘Queen, Lady, my liege, in whom I have my joy,
Take, what I had not won except for you, These jewels, and make me happy, making them An armlet for the roundest arm on earth, Or necklace for a neck to which the swan’s Is tawnier than her cygnet’s: these are words: Your beauty is your beauty, and I sin
In speaking, yet O grant my worship of it Words, as we grant grief tears. Such sin in words, Perchance, we both can pardon: but, my Queen, I hear of rumours flying thro’ your court. Our bond, as not the bond of man and wife, Should have in it an absoluter trust
To make up that defect: let rumours be: When did not rumours fly? these, as I trust That you trust me in your own nobleness, I may not well believe that you believe.’

While thus he spoke, half turn’d away, the Queen Brake from the vast oriel-embowering vine Leaf after leaf, and tore, and cast them off, Till all the place whereon she stood was green; Then, when he ceased, in one cold passive hand Received at once and laid aside the gems There on a table near her, and replied:

‘It may be, I am quicker of belief
Than you believe me, Lancelot of the Lake. Our bond is not the bond of man and wife. This good is in it, whatsoe’er of ill,
It can be broken easier. I for you
This many a year have done despite and wrong To one whom ever in my heart of hearts
I did acknowledge nobler. What are these? Diamonds for me! they had been thrice their worth Being your gift, had you not lost your own. To loyal hearts the value of all gifts
Must vary as the giver’s. Not for me! For her! for your new fancy. Only this
Grant me, I pray you: have your joys apart. I doubt not that however changed, you keep So much of what is graceful: and myself
Would shun to break those bounds of courtesy In which as Arthur’s Queen I move and rule: So cannot speak my mind. An end to this! A strange one! yet I take it with Amen.
So pray you, add my diamonds to her pearls; Deck her with these; tell her, she shines me down: An armlet for an arm to which the Queen’s Is haggard, or a necklace for a neck
O as much fairer–as a faith once fair Was richer than these diamonds–hers not mine – Nay, by the mother of our Lord himself,
Or hers or mine, mine now to work my will – She shall not have them.’

Saying which she seized,
And, thro’ the casement standing wide for heat, Flung them, and down they flash’d, and smote the stream. Then from the smitten surface flash’d, as it were, Diamonds to meet them, and they past away. Then while Sir Lancelot leant, in half disdain At love, life, all things, on the window ledge, Close underneath his eyes, and right across Where these had fallen, slowly past the barge Whereon the lily maid of Astolat
Lay smiling, like a star in blackest night.”

This affair of the diamonds is the chief addition to the old tale, in which we already see the curse of lawless love, fallen upon the jealous Queen and the long-enduring Lancelot. “This is not the first time,” said Sir Lancelot, “that ye have been displeased with me causeless, but, madame, ever I must suffer you, but what sorrow I endure I take no force” (that is, “I disregard”).

The romance, and the poet, in his own despite, cannot but make Lancelot the man we love, not Arthur or another. Human nature perversely sides with Guinevere against the Blameless King:-

“She broke into a little scornful laugh: ‘Arthur, my lord, Arthur, the faultless King, That passionate perfection, my good lord – But who can gaze upon the Sun in heaven? He never spake word of reproach to me,
He never had a glimpse of mine untruth, He cares not for me: only here to-day
There gleam’d a vague suspicion in his eyes: Some meddling rogue has tamper’d with him–else Rapt in this fancy of his Table Round,
And swearing men to vows impossible, To make them like himself: but, friend, to me He is all fault who hath no fault at all: For who loves me must have a touch of earth; The low sun makes the colour: I am yours, Not Arthur’s, as ye know, save by the bond.”

It is not the beautiful Queen who wins us, our hearts are with “the innocence of love” in Elaine. But Lancelot has the charm that captivated Lavaine; and Tennyson’s Arthur remains

“The moral child without the craft to rule, Else had he not lost me.”

Indeed the romance of Malory makes Arthur deserve “the pretty popular name such manhood earns” by his conduct as regards Guinevere when she is accused by her enemies in the later chapters. Yet Malory does not finally condone the sin which baffles Lancelot’s quest of the Holy Grail.

Tennyson at first was in doubt as to writing on the Grail, for certain respects of reverence. When he did approach the theme it was in a method of extreme condensation. The romances on the Grail outrun the length even of mediaeval poetry and prose. They are exceedingly confused, as was natural, if that hypothesis which regards the story as a Christianised form of obscure Celtic myth be correct. Sir Percivale’s sister, in the Idyll, has the first vision of the Grail:-

“Sweet brother, I have seen the Holy Grail: For, waked at dead of night, I heard a sound As of a silver horn from o’er the hills
Blown, and I thought, ‘It is not Arthur’s use To hunt by moonlight’; and the slender sound As from a distance beyond distance grew
Coming upon me–O never harp nor horn, Nor aught we blow with breath, or touch with hand, Was like that music as it came; and then Stream’d thro’ my cell a cold and silver beam, And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail, Rose-red with beatings in it, as if alive, Till all the white walls of my cell were dyed With rosy colours leaping on the wall;
And then the music faded, and the Grail Past, and the beam decay’d, and from the walls The rosy quiverings died into the night. So now the Holy Thing is here again
Among us, brother, fast thou too and pray, And tell thy brother knights to fast and pray, That so perchance the vision may be seen By thee and those, and all the world be heal’d.”

Galahad, son of Lancelot and the first Elaine (who became Lancelot’s mistress by art magic), then vows himself to the Quest, and, after the vision in hall at Camelot, the knights, except Arthur, follow his example, to Arthur’s grief. “Ye follow wandering fires!” Probably, or perhaps, the poet indicates dislike of hasty spiritual enthusiasms, of “seeking for a sign,” and of the mysticism which betokens want of faith. The Middle Ages, more than many readers know, were ages of doubt. Men desired the witness of the senses to the truth of what the Church taught, they wished to see that naked child of the romance “smite himself into” the wafer of the Sacrament. The author of the Imitatio Christi discourages such vain and too curious inquiries as helped to rend the Church, and divided Christendom into hostile camps. The Quest of the actual Grail was a knightly form of theological research into the unsearchable; undertaken, often in a secular spirit of adventure, by sinful men. The poet’s heart is rather with human things:-

“‘O brother,’ ask’d Ambrosius,–‘for in sooth These ancient books–and they would win thee–teem, Only I find not there this Holy Grail,
With miracles and marvels like to these, Not all unlike; which oftentime I read,
Who read but on my breviary with ease, Till my head swims; and then go forth and pass Down to the little thorpe that lies so close, And almost plaster’d like a martin’s nest To these old walls–and mingle with our folk; And knowing every honest face of theirs
As well as ever shepherd knew his sheep, And every homely secret in their hearts, Delight myself with gossip and old wives, And ills and aches, and teethings, lyings-in, And mirthful sayings, children of the place, That have no meaning half a league away: Or lulling random squabbles when they rise, Chafferings and chatterings at the market-cross, Rejoice, small man, in this small world of mine, Yea, even in their hens and in their eggs.”‘

This appears to be Tennyson’s original reading of the Quest of the Grail. His own mysticism, which did not strive, or cry, or seek after marvels, though marvels might come unsought, is expressed in Arthur’s words:-

“‘”And spake I not too truly, O my knights? Was I too dark a prophet when I said
To those who went upon the Holy Quest, That most of them would follow wandering fires, Lost in the quagmire?–lost to me and gone, And left me gazing at a barren board,
And a lean Order–scarce return’d a tithe – And out of those to whom the vision came My greatest hardly will believe he saw;
Another hath beheld it afar off,
And leaving human wrongs to right themselves, Cares but to pass into the silent life.
And one hath had the vision face to face, And now his chair desires him here in vain, However they may crown him otherwhere.

‘”And some among you held, that if the King Had seen the sight he would have sworn the vow: Not easily, seeing that the King must guard That which he rules, and is but as the hind To whom a space of land is given to plow Who may not wander from the allotted field Before his work be done; but, being done, Let visions of the night or of the day
Come, as they will; and many a time they come, Until this earth he walks on seems not earth, This light that strikes his eyeball is not light, This air that smites his forehead is not air But vision–yea, his very hand and foot – In moments when he feels he cannot die,
And knows himself no vision to himself, Nor the high God a vision, nor that One
Who rose again: ye have seen what ye have seen.”

‘So spake the King: I knew not all he meant.'”

The closing lines declare, as far as the poet could declare them, these subjective experiences of his which, in a manner rarely parallelled, coloured and formed his thought on the highest things. He introduces them even into this poem on a topic which, because of its sacred associations, he for long did not venture to touch.

In Pelleas and Ettarre–which deals with the sorrows of one of the young knights who fill up the gaps left at the Round Table by the mischances of the Quest–it would be difficult to trace a Celtic original. For Malory, not Celtic legend, supplied Tennyson with the germinal idea of a poem which, in the romance, has no bearing on the final catastrophe. Pelleas, a King of the Isles, loves the beautiful Ettarre, “a great lady,” and for her wins at a tourney the prize of the golden circlet. But she hates and despises him, and Sir Gawain is a spectator when, as in the poem, the felon knights of Ettarre bind and insult their conqueror, Pelleas. Gawain promises to win the love of Ettarre for Pelleas, and, as in the poem, borrows his arms and horse, and pretends to have slain him. But in place of turning Ettarre’s heart towards Pelleas, Gawain becomes her lover, and Pelleas, detecting them asleep, lays his naked sword on their necks. He then rides home to die; but Nimue (Vivien), the Lady of the Lake, restores him to health and sanity. His fever gone, he scorns Ettarre, who, by Nimue’s enchantment, now loves him as much as she had hated him. Pelleas weds Nimue, and Ettarre dies of a broken heart. Tennyson, of course, could not make Nimue (his Vivien) do anything benevolent. He therefore closes his poem by a repetition of the effect in the case of Balin. Pelleas is driven desperate by the treachery of Gawain, the reported infidelity of Guinevere, and the general corruption of the ideal. A shadow falls on Lancelot and Guinevere, and Modred sees that his hour is drawing nigh. In spite of beautiful passages this is not one of the finest of the Idylls, save for the study of the fierce, hateful, and beautiful grande dame, Ettarre. The narrative does little to advance the general plot. In the original of Malory it has no connection with the Lancelot cycle, except as far as it reveals the treachery of Gawain, the gay and fair-spoken “light of love,” brother of the traitor Modred. A simpler treatment of the theme may be read in Mr Swinburne’s beautiful poem, The Tale of Balen.

It is in The Last Tournament that Modred finds the beginning of his opportunity. The brief life of the Ideal has burned itself out, as the year, in its vernal beauty when Arthur came, is burning out in autumn. The poem is purposely autumnal, with the autumn, not of mellow fruitfulness, but of the “flying gold of the ruined woodlands” and the dank odours of decay. In that miserable season is held the Tourney of the Dead Innocence, with the blood-red prize of rubies. With a wise touch Tennyson has represented the Court as fallen not into vice only and crime, but into positive vulgarity and bad taste. The Tournament is a carnival of the “smart” and the third-rate. Courtesy is dead, even Tristram is brutal, and in Iseult hatred of her husband is as powerful as love of her lover. The satire strikes at England, where the world has never been corrupt with a good grace. It is a passage of arms neither gentle nor joyous that Lancelot presides over:-

“The sudden trumpet sounded as in a dream To ears but half-awaked, then one low roll Of Autumn thunder, and the jousts began: And ever the wind blew, and yellowing leaf And gloom and gleam, and shower and shorn plume Went down it. Sighing weariedly, as one
Who sits and gazes on a faded fire, When all the goodlier guests are past away, Sat their great umpire, looking o’er the lists. He saw the laws that ruled the tournament Broken, but spake not; once, a knight cast down Before his throne of arbitration cursed
The dead babe and the follies of the King; And once the laces of a helmet crack’d,
And show’d him, like a vermin in its hole, Modred, a narrow face: anon he heard
The voice that billow’d round the barriers roar An ocean-sounding welcome to one knight, But newly-enter’d, taller than the rest, And armour’d all in forest green, whereon There tript a hundred tiny silver deer,
And wearing but a holly-spray for crest, With ever-scattering berries, and on shield A spear, a harp, a bugle–Tristram–late From overseas in Brittany return’d,
And marriage with a princess of that realm, Isolt the White–Sir Tristram of the Woods – Whom Lancelot knew, had held sometime with pain His own against him, and now yearn’d to shake The burthen off his heart in one full shock With Tristram ev’n to death: his strong hands gript And dinted the gilt dragons right and left, Until he groan’d for wrath–so many of those, That ware their ladies’ colours on the casque, Drew from before Sir Tristram to the bounds, And there with gibes and flickering mockeries Stood, while he mutter’d, ‘Craven crests! O shame! What faith have these in whom they sware to love? The glory of our Round Table is no more.’

So Tristram won, and Lancelot gave, the gems, Not speaking other word than ‘Hast thou won? Art thou the purest, brother? See, the hand Wherewith thou takest this, is red!’ to whom Tristram, half plagued by Lancelot’s languorous mood, Made answer, ‘Ay, but wherefore toss me this Like a dry bone cast to some hungry hound? Let be thy fair Queen’s fantasy. Strength of heart And might of limb, but mainly use and skill, Are winners in this pastime of our King. My hand–belike the lance hath dript upon it – No blood of mine, I trow; but O chief knight, Right arm of Arthur in the battlefield,
Great brother, thou nor I have made the world; Be happy in thy fair Queen as I in mine.’

And Tristram round the gallery made his horse Caracole; then bow’d his homage, bluntly saying, ‘Fair damsels, each to him who worships each Sole Queen of Beauty and of love, behold This day my Queen of Beauty is not here.’ And most of these were mute, some anger’d, one Murmuring, ‘All courtesy is dead,’ and one, ‘The glory of our Round Table is no more.’

Then fell thick rain, plume droopt and mantle clung, And pettish cries awoke, and the wan day Went glooming down in wet and weariness: But under her black brows a swarthy one
Laugh’d shrilly, crying, ‘Praise the patient saints, Our one white day of Innocence hath past, Tho’ somewhat draggled at the skirt. So be it. The snowdrop only, flowering thro’ the year, Would make the world as blank as Winter-tide. Come–let us gladden their sad eyes, our Queen’s And Lancelot’s, at this night’s solemnity With all the kindlier colours of the field.'”

Arthur’s last victory over a robber knight is ingloriously squalid:-

“He ended: Arthur knew the voice; the face Wellnigh was helmet-hidden, and the name Went wandering somewhere darkling in his mind. And Arthur deign’d not use of word or sword, But let the drunkard, as he stretch’d from horse To strike him, overbalancing his bulk,
Down from the causeway heavily to the swamp Fall, as the crest of some slow-arching wave, Heard in dead night along that table-shore, Drops flat, and after the great waters break Whitening for half a league, and thin themselves, Far over sands marbled with moon and cloud, From less and less to nothing; thus he fell Head-heavy; then the knights, who watch’d him, roar’d And shouted and leapt down upon the fall’n; There trampled out his face from being known, And sank his head in mire, and slimed themselves: Nor heard the King for their own cries, but sprang Thro’ open doors, and swording right and left Men, women, on their sodden faces, hurl’d The tables over and the wines, and slew
Till all the rafters rang with woman-yells, And all the pavement stream’d with massacre: Then, echoing yell with yell, they fired the tower, Which half that autumn night, like the live North, Red-pulsing up thro’ Alioth and Alcor,
Made all above it, and a hundred meres About it, as the water Moab saw
Come round by the East, and out beyond them flush’d The long low dune, and lazy-plunging sea.”

Guinevere is one of the greatest of the Idylls. Malory makes Lancelot more sympathetic; his fight, unarmed, in Guinevere’s chamber, against the felon knights, is one of his most spirited scenes. Tennyson omits this, and omits all the unpardonable behaviour of Arthur as narrated in Malory. Critics have usually condemned the last parting of Guinevere and Arthur, because the King doth preach too much to an unhappy woman who has no reply. The position of Arthur is not easily redeemable: it is difficult to conceive that a noble nature could be, or should be, blind so long. He does rehabilitate his Queen in her own self-respect, perhaps, by assuring her that he loves her still:-

“Let no man dream but that I love thee still.”

Had he said that one line and no more, we might have loved him better. In the Idylls we have not Malory’s last meeting of Lancelot and Guinevere, one of the scenes in which the wandering composite romance ends as nobly as the Iliad.

The Passing of Arthur, except for a new introductory passage of great beauty and appropriateness, is the Morte d’Arthur, first published in 1842:-

“So all day long the noise of battle roll’d Among the mountains by the winter sea.”

The year has run its course, spring, summer, gloomy autumn, and dies in the mist of Arthur’s last wintry battle in the west –

“And the new sun rose, bringing the new year.”

The splendid and sombre procession has passed, leaving us to muse as to how far the poet has fulfilled his own ideal. There could be no new epic: he gave a chain of heroic Idylls. An epic there could not be, for the Iliad and Odyssey have each a unity of theme, a narrative compressed into a few days in the former, in the latter into forty days of time. The tragedy of Arthur’s reign could not so be condensed; and Tennyson chose the only feasible plan. He has left a work, not absolutely perfect, indeed, but such as he conceived, after many tentative essays, and such as he desired to achieve. His fame may not rest chiefly on the Idylls, but they form one of the fairest jewels in the crown that shines with unnumbered gems, each with its own glory.


The success of the first volume of the Idylls recompensed the poet for the slings and arrows that gave Maud a hostile welcome. His next publication was the beautiful Tithonus, a fit pendant to the Ulysses, and composed about the same date (1833-35). “A quarter of a century ago,” Tennyson dates it, writing in 1860 to the Duke of Argyll. He had found it when “ferreting among my old books,” he said, in search of something for Thackeray, who was establishing the Cornhill Magazine. What must the wealth of the poet have been, who, possessing Tithonus in his portfolio, did not take the trouble to insert it in the volumes of 1842! Nobody knows how many poems of Tennyson’s never even saw pen and ink, being composed unwritten, and forgotten. At this time we find him recommending Mr Browning’s Men and Women to the Duke, who, like many Tennysonians, does not seem to have been a ready convert to his great contemporary. The Duke and Duchess urged the Laureate to attempt the topic of the Holy Grail, but he was not in the mood. Indeed the vision of the Grail in the early Sir Galahad is doubtless happier than the allegorical handling of a theme so obscure, remote, and difficult, in the Idylls. He wrote his Boadicea, a piece magnificent in itself, but of difficult popular access, owing to the metrical experiment.

In the autumn of 1860 he revisited Cornwall with F. T. Palgrave, Mr Val Prinsep, and Mr Holman Hunt. They walked in the rain, saw Tintagel and the Scilly Isles, and were feted by an enthusiastic captain of a little river steamer, who was more interested in “Mr Tinman and Mr Pancake” than the Celtic boatman of Ardtornish. The winter was passed at Farringford, and the Northern Farmer was written there, a Lincolnshire reminiscence, in the February of 1861. In autumn the Pyrenees were visited by Tennyson in company with Arthur Clough and Mr Dakyns of Clifton College. At Cauteretz in August, and among memories of the old tour with Arthur Hallam, was written All along the Valley. The ways, however, in Auvergne were “foul,” and the diet “unhappy.” The dedication of the Idylls was written on the death of the Prince Consort in December, and in January 1862 the Ode for the opening of an exhibition. The poet was busy with his “Fisherman,” Enoch Arden. The volume was published in 1864, and Lord Tennyson says it has been, next to In Memoriam, the most popular of his father’s works. One would have expected the one volume containing the poems up to 1842 to hold that place. The new book, however, mainly dealt with English, contemporary, and domestic themes–“the poetry of the affections.” An old woman, a district visitor reported, regarded Enoch Arden as “more beautiful” than the other tracts which were read to her. It is indeed a tender and touching tale, based on a folk-story which Tennyson found current in Brittany as well as in England. Nor is the unseen and unknown landscape of the tropic isle less happily created by the poet’s imagination than the familiar English cliffs and hazel copses:-

“The mountain wooded to the peak, the lawns And winding glades high up like ways to Heaven, The slender coco’s drooping crown of plumes, The lightning flash of insect and of bird, The lustre of the long convolvuluses
That coil’d around the stately stems, and ran Ev’n to the limit of the land, the glows And glories of the broad belt of the world, All these he saw; but what he fain had seen He could not see, the kindly human face, Nor ever hear a kindly voice, but heard
The myriad shriek of wheeling ocean-fowl, The league-long roller thundering on the reef, The moving whisper of huge trees that branch’d And blossom’d in the zenith, or the sweep Of some precipitous rivulet to the wave, As down the shore he ranged, or all day long Sat often in the seaward-gazing gorge,
A shipwreck’d sailor, waiting for a sail: No sail from day to day, but every day
The sunrise broken into scarlet shafts Among the palms and ferns and precipices; The blaze upon the waters to the east;
The blaze upon his island overhead; The blaze upon the waters to the west;
Then the great stars that globed themselves in Heaven, The hollower-bellowing ocean, and again
The scarlet shafts of sunrise–but no sail.”

Aylmer’s Field somewhat recalls the burden of Maud, the curse of purse-proud wealth, but is too gloomy to be a fair specimen of Tennyson’s art. In Sea Dreams (first published in 1860) the awful vision of crumbling faiths is somewhat out of harmony with its environment:-

“But round the North, a light,
A belt, it seem’d, of luminous vapour, lay, And ever in it a low musical note
Swell’d up and died; and, as it swell’d, a ridge Of breaker issued from the belt, and still Grew with the growing note, and when the note Had reach’d a thunderous fulness, on those cliffs Broke, mixt with awful light (the same as that Living within the belt) whereby she saw
That all those lines of cliffs were cliffs no more, But huge cathedral fronts of every age,
Grave, florid, stern, as far as eye could see, One after one: and then the great ridge drew, Lessening to the lessening music, back,
And past into the belt and swell’d again Slowly to music: ever when it broke
The statues, king or saint or founder fell; Then from the gaps and chasms of ruin left Came men and women in dark clusters round, Some crying, ‘Set them up! they shall not fall!’ And others, ‘Let them lie, for they have fall’n.’ And still they strove and wrangled: and she grieved In her strange dream, she knew not why, to find Their wildest wailings never out of tune With that sweet note; and ever as their shrieks Ran highest up the gamut, that great wave Returning, while none mark’d it, on the crowd Broke, mixt with awful light, and show’d their eyes Glaring, and passionate looks, and swept away The men of flesh and blood, and men of stone, To the waste deeps together.

‘Then I fixt
My wistful eyes on two fair images, Both crown’d with stars and high among the stars, – The Virgin Mother standing with her child High up on one of those dark minster-fronts – Till she began to totter, and the child
Clung to the mother, and sent out a cry Which mixt with little Margaret’s, and I woke, And my dream awed me: –well–but what are dreams?”

The passage is rather fitted for a despairing mood of Arthur, in the Idylls, than for the wife of the city clerk ruined by a pious rogue.

The Lucretius, later published, is beyond praise as a masterly study of the great Roman sceptic, whose heart is at eternal odds with his Epicurean creed. Nascent madness, or fever of the brain drugged by the blundering love philtre, is not more cunningly treated in the mad scenes of Maud. No prose commentary on the De Rerum Natura, however long and learned, conveys so clearly as this concise study in verse the sense of magnificent mingled ruin in the mind and poem of the Roman.

The “Experiments in Quantity” were, perhaps, suggested by Mr Matthew Arnold’s Lectures on the Translating of Homer. Mr Arnold believed in a translation into English hexameters. His negative criticism of other translators and translations was amusing and instructive: he had an easy game to play with the Yankee-doodle metre of F. W. Newman, the ponderous blank verse of Cowper, the tripping and clipping couplets of Pope, the Elizabethan fantasies of Chapman. But Mr Arnold’s hexameters were neither musical nor rapid: they only exhibited a new form of failure. As the Prince of Abyssinia said to his tutor, “Enough; you have convinced me that no man can be a poet,” so Mr Arnold went some way to prove that no man can translate Homer.

Tennyson had the lowest opinion of hexameters as an English metre for serious purposes.

“These lame hexameters the strong-wing’d music of Homer!”

Lord Tennyson says, “German hexameters he disliked even more than English.” Indeed there is not much room for preference. Tennyson’s Alcaics (Milton) were intended to follow the Greek rather than the Horatian model, and resulted, at all events, in a poem worthy of the “mighty-mouth’d inventor of harmonies.” The specimen of the Iliad in blank verse, beautiful as it is, does not, somehow, reproduce the music of Homer. It is entirely Tennysonian, as in

“Roll’d the rich vapour far into the heaven.”

The reader, in that one line, recognises the voice and trick of the English poet, and is far away from the Chian:-

“As when in heaven the stars about the moon Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid, And every height comes out, and jutting peak And valley, and the immeasurable heavens Break open to their highest, and all the stars Shine, and the Shepherd gladdens in his heart: So many a fire between the ships and stream Of Xanthus blazed before the towers of Troy, A thousand on the plain; and close by each Sat fifty in the blaze of burning fire;
And eating hoary grain and pulse the steeds, Fixt by their cars, waited the golden dawn.”

This is excellent, is poetry, escapes the conceits of Pope (who never “wrote with his eye on the object”), but is pure Tennyson. We have not yet, probably we never shall have, an adequate rendering of the Iliad into verse, and prose translations do not pretend to be adequate. When parents and dominies have abolished the study of Greek, something, it seems, will have been lost to the world,– something which even Tennyson could not restore in English. He thought blank verse the proper equivalent; but it is no equivalent. One even prefers his own prose:-

Nor did Paris linger in his lofty halls, but when he had girt on his gorgeous armour, all of varied bronze, then he rushed thro’ the city, glorying in his airy feet. And as when a stall-kept horse, that is barley-fed at the manger, breaketh his tether, and dasheth thro’ the plain, spurning it, being wont to bathe himself in the fair-running river, rioting, and reareth his head, and his mane flieth back on either shoulder, and he glorieth in his beauty, and his knees bear him at the gallop to the haunts and meadows of the mares; so ran the son of Priam, Paris, from the height of Pergamus, all in arms, glittering like the sun, laughing for light-heartedness, and his swift feet bare him.

In February 1865 Tennyson lost the mother whose portrait he drew in Isabel,–“a thing enskied and sainted.”

In the autumn of 1865 the Tennysons went on a Continental tour, and visited Waterloo, Weimar, and Dresden; in September they entertained Emma I., Queen of the Sandwich Islands. The months passed quietly at home or in town. The poet had written his Lucretius, and, to please Sir George Grove, wrote The Song of the Wrens, for music. Tennyson had not that positive aversion to music which marked Dr Johnson, Victor Hugo, Theophile Gautier, and some other poets. Nay, he liked Beethoven, which places him higher in the musical scale than Scott, who did not rise above a Border lilt or a Jacobite ditty. The Wren songs, entitled The Window, were privately printed by Sir Ivor Guest in 1867, were set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and published by Strahan in December 1870. “A puppet,” Tennyson called the song-book, “whose only merit is, perhaps, that it can dance to Mr Sullivan’s instrument. I am sorry that my puppet should have to dance at all in the dark shadow of these days” (the siege of Paris), “but the music is now completed, and I am bound by my promise.” The verses are described as “partly in the old style,” but the true old style of the Elizabethan and cavalier days is lost.

In the summer of 1867 the Tennysons moved to a farmhouse near Haslemere, at that time not a centre of literary Londoners. “Sandy soil and heather-scented air” allured them, and the result was the purchase of land, and the building of Aldworth, Mr Knowles being the architect. In autumn Tennyson visited Lyme Regis, and, like all other travellers thither, made a pilgrimage to the Cobb, sacred to Louisa Musgrove. The poet now began the study of Hebrew, having a mind to translate the Book of Job, a vision unfulfilled. In 1868 he thought of publishing his boyish piece, The Lover’s Tale, but delayed. An anonymously edited piracy of this and other poems was perpetrated in 1875, limited, at least nominally, to fifty copies.

In July Longfellow visited Tennyson. “The Longfellows and he talked much of spiritualism, for he was greatly interested in that subject, but he suspended his judgment, and thought that, if in such manifestations there is anything, ‘Pucks, not the spirits of dead men, reveal themselves.'” This was Southey’s suggestion, as regards the celebrated disturbances in the house of the Wesleys. “Wit might have much to say, wisdom, little,” said Sam Wesley. Probably the talk about David Dunglas Home, the “medium” then in vogue, led to the discussion of “spiritualism.” We do not hear that Tennyson ever had the curiosity to see Home, whom Mr Browning so firmly detested.

In September The Holy Grail was begun: it was finished “in about a week. It came like a breath of inspiration.” The subject had for many years been turned about in the poet’s mind, which, of course, was busy in these years of apparent inactivity. At this time (August 1868) Tennyson left his old publishers, the Moxons, for Mr Strahan, who endured till 1872. Then he was succeeded by Messrs H. S. King & Co., who gave place (1879) to Messrs Kegan Paul & Co., while in 1884 Messrs Macmillan became, and continue to be, the publishers. A few pieces, except Lucretius (Macmillan’s Magazine, May 1868) unimportant, appeared in serials.

Very early in 1869 The Coming of Arthur was composed, while Tennyson was reading Browning’s The Ring and the Book. He and his great contemporary were on terms of affectionate friendship, though Tennyson, perhaps, appreciated less of Browning than Browning of Tennyson. Meanwhile “Old Fitz” kept up a fire of unsympathetic growls at Browning and all his works. “I have been trying in vain to read it” (The Ring and the Book), “and yet the Athenaeum tells me it is wonderfully fine.” FitzGerald’s ply had been taken long ago; he wanted verbal music in poetry (no exorbitant desire), while, in Browning, carmina desunt. Perhaps, too, a personal feeling, as if Browning was Tennyson’s rival, affected the judgment of the author of Omar Khayyam. We may almost call him “the author.”

The Holy Grail, with the smaller poems, such as Lucretius, was published at the end of 1869. FitzGerald appears to have preferred The Northern Farmer, “the substantial rough-spun nature I knew,” to all the visionary knights in the airy Quest. To compare “–” (obviously Browning) with Tennyson, was “to compare an old Jew’s curiosity shop with the Phidian Marbles.” Tennyson’s poems “being clear to the bottom as well as beautiful, do not seem to cockney eyes so deep as muddy waters.”

In November 1870 The Last Tournament was begun; it was finished in May 1871. Conceivably the vulgar scandals of the last days of the French Imperial regime may have influenced Tennyson’s picture of the corruption of Arthur’s Court; but the Empire did not begin, like the Round Table, with aspirations after the Ideal. In the autumn of the year Tennyson entertained, and was entertained by, Mr Huxley. In their ideas about ultimate things two men could not vary more widely, but each delighted in the other’s society. In the spring of 1872 Tennyson visited Paris and the ruins of the Louvre. He read Victor Hugo, and Alfred de Musset, whose comedies he admired. The little that we hear of his opinion of the other great poet runs to this effect, “Victor Hugo is an unequal genius, sometimes sublime; he reminds one that there is but one step between the sublime and the ridiculous,” but the example by which Tennyson illustrated this was derived from one of the poet’s novels. In these we meet not only the sublime and the ridiculous, but passages which leave us in some perplexity as to their true category. One would have expected Hugo’s lyrics to be Tennyson’s favourites, but only Gastibelza is mentioned in that character. At this time Tennyson was vexed by

“Art with poisonous honey stolen from France,”

a phrase which cannot apply to Hugo. Meanwhile Gareth was being written, and the knight’s song for The Coming of Arthur. Gareth and Lynette, with minor pieces, appeared in 1872. Balin and Balan was composed later, to lead up to Vivien, to which, perhaps, Balin and Balan was introduction sufficient had it been the earlier written. But the Idylls have already been discussed as arranged in sequence. The completion of the Idylls, with the patriotic epilogue, was followed by the offer of a baronetcy. Tennyson preferred that he and his wife “should remain plain Mr and Mrs,” though “I hope that I have too much of the old-world loyalty not to wear my lady’s favours against all comers, should you think that it would be more agreeable to her Majesty that I should do so.”

The Idylls ended, Tennyson in 1874 began to contemplate a drama, choosing the topic, perhaps neither popular nor in an Aristotelian sense tragic, of Mary Tudor. This play was published, and put on the stage by Sir Henry Irving in 1875. Harold followed in 1876, The Cup in 1881 (at the Lyceum), The Promise of May (at the Globe) in 1882, Becket in 1884, with The Foresters in 1892. It seems best to consider all the dramatic period of Tennyson’s work, a period reached so strangely late in his career, in the sequence of the Plays. The task is one from which I shrink, as conscious of entire ignorance of the stage and of lack of enthusiasm for the drama. Great dramatic authors have, almost invariably, had long practical knowledge of the scenes and of what is behind them. Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Moliere and his contemporaries, had lived their lives on the boards and in the foyer, actors themselves, or in daily touch with actors and actresses. In the present day successful playwrights appear to live much in the world of the players. They have practical knowledge of the conventions and conditions which the stage imposes. Neither Browning nor Mr Swinburne (to take great names) has had, it seems, much of this practical and daily experience; their dramas have been acted but rarely, if at all, and many examples prove that neither poetical genius nor the genius for prose fiction can enable men to produce plays which hold their own on the boards. This may be the fault of public taste, or partly of public taste, partly of defect in practical knowledge on the side of the authors. Of the stage, by way of practice, Tennyson had known next to nothing, yet his dramas were written to be acted, and acted some of them were. “For himself, he was aware,” says his biographer, “that he wanted intimate knowledge of the mechanical details necessary for the modern stage, although in early and middle life he had been a constant playgoer, and would keenly follow the action of a play, criticising the characterisation, incidents, scenic effects, situations, language, and dramatic points.” He was quite prepared to be “edited” for acting purposes by the players. Miss Mary Anderson says that “he was ready to sacrifice even his MOST beautiful lines for the sake of a real dramatic effect.”

This proved unusual common-sense in a poet. Modern times and manners are notoriously unfavourable to the serious drama. In the age of the Greek tragedians, as in the days of “Eliza and our James,” reading was not very common, and life was much more passed in public than among ourselves, when people go to the play for light recreation, or to be shocked. So various was the genius of Tennyson, that had he devoted himself early to the stage, and had he been backed by a manager with the enterprise and intelligence of Sir Henry Irving, it is impossible to say how much he might have done to restore the serious drama. But we cannot regret that he was occupied in his prime with other things, nor can we expect to find his noblest and most enduring work in the dramatic experiments of his latest years. It is notable that, in his opinion, “the conditions of the dramatic art are much more complex than they were.” For example, we have “the star system,” which tends to allot what is, or was, technically styled “the fat,” to one or two popular players. Now, a poet like Tennyson will inevitably distribute large quantities of what is most excellent to many characters, and the consequent difficulties may be appreciated by students of our fallen nature. The poet added that to be a first-rate historical playwright means much more work than formerly, seeing that “exact history” has taken the part of the “chance chronicle.”

This is a misfortune. The dramas of the Attic stage, with one or two exceptions, are based on myth and legend, not on history, and even in the Persae, grounded on contemporary events, AEschylus introduced the ghost of Darius, not vouched for by “exact history.” Let us conceive Shakespeare writing Macbeth in an age of “exact history.” Hardly any of the play would be left. Fleance and Banquo must go. Duncan becomes a young man, and far from “gracious.” Macbeth appears as the defender of the legitimist prince, Lulach, against Duncan, a usurper. Lady Macbeth is a pattern to her sex, and her lord is a clement and sagacious ruler. The witches are ruled out of the piece. Difficulties arise about the English aid to Malcolm. History, in fact, declines to be dramatic. Liberties must be taken. In his plays of the Mary Stuart cycle, Mr Swinburne telescopes the affair of Darnley into that of Chastelard, which was much earlier. He makes Mary Beaton (in love with Chastelard) a kind of avenging fate, who will never leave the Queen till her head falls at Fotheringay; though, in fact, after a flirtation with Randolph, Mary Beaton married Ogilvy of Boyne (really in love with Lady Bothwell), and not one of the four Maries was at Fotheringay. An artist ought to be allowed to follow legend, of its essence dramatic, or to manipulate history as he pleases. Our modern scrupulosity is pedantic. But Tennyson read a long list of books for his Queen Mary, though it does not appear that he made original researches in MSS. These labours occupied 1874 and 1875. Yet it would be foolish to criticise his Queen Mary as if we were criticising “exact history.” “The play’s the thing.”

The poet thought that “Bloody Mary” “had been harshly judged by the verdict of popular tradition.” So have most characters to whom popular dislike affixes the popular epithet–“Bloody Claverse,” “Bloody Mackenzie,” “Bloody Balfour.” Mary had the courage of the Tudors. She “edified all around her by her cheerfulness, her piety, and her resignation to the will of Providence,” in her last days (Lingard). Camden calls her “a queen never praised enough for the purity of her morals, her charity to the poor” (she practised as a district visitor), “and her liberality to the nobles and the clergy.” She was “pious, merciful, pure, and ever to be praised, if we overlook her erroneous opinions in religion,” says Godwin. She had been grievously wronged from her youth upwards. In Elizabeth she had a sister and a rival, a constant intriguer against her, and a kinswoman far from amiable. Despite “the kindness and attention of Philip” (Lingard), affairs of State demanded his absence from England. The disappointment as to her expected child was cruel. She knew that she had become unpopular, and she could not look for the success of her Church, to which she was sincerely attached. M. Auguste Filon thought that Queen Mary might secure dramatic rank for Tennyson, “if a great actress arose who conceived a passion for the part of Mary.” But that was not to be expected. Mary was middle- aged, plain, and in aspect now terrible, now rueful. No great actress will throw herself with passion into such an ungrateful part. “Throughout all history,” Tennyson said, “there was nothing more mournful than the final tragedy of this woman.” MOURNFUL it is, but not tragic. There is nothing grand at the close, as when Mary Stuart conquers death and evil fame, redeeming herself by her courage and her calm, and extending over unborn generations that witchery which her enemies dreaded more than an army with banners.

Moreover, popular tradition can never forgive the fires of Smithfield. It was Mary Tudor’s misfortune that she had the power to execute, on a great scale, that faculty of persecution to the death for which her Presbyterian and other Protestant opponents pined in vain. Mr Froude says of her, “For the first and last time the true Ultramontane spirit was dominant in England, the genuine conviction that, as the orthodox prophets and sovereigns of Israel slew the worshippers of Baal, so were Catholic rulers called upon, as their first duty, to extirpate heretics as the enemies of God and man.” That was precisely the spirit of Knox and other Presbyterian denouncers of death against “Idolaters” (Catholics). But the Scottish preachers were always thwarted: Mary and her advisers had their way, as, earlier, Latimer had preached against sufferers at the stake. To the stake, which he feared so greatly, Cranmer had sent persons not of his own fleeting shade of theological opinion. These men had burned Anabaptists, but all that is lightly forgotten by Protestant opinion. Under Mary (whoever may have been primarily responsible) Cranmer and Latimer were treated as they had treated others. Moreover, some two hundred poor men and women had dared the fiery death. The persecution was on a scale never forgiven or forgotten, since Mary began cerdonibus esse timenda. Mary was not essentially inclement. Despite Renard, the agent of the Emperor, she spared that lord of fluff and feather, Courtenay, and she spared Elizabeth. Lady Jane she could not save, the girl who was a queen by grace of God and of her own royal nature. But Mary will never be pardoned by England. “Few men or women have lived less capable of doing knowingly a wrong thing,” says Mr Froude, a great admirer of Tennyson’s play. Yet, taking Mr Froude’s own view, Mary’s abject and superannuated passion for Philip; her ecstasies during her supposed pregnancy; “the forlorn hours when she would sit on the ground with her knees drawn to her face,” with all her “symptoms of hysterical derangement, leave little room, as we think of her, for other feelings than pity.” Unfortunately, feelings of pity for a person so distraught, so sourly treated by fortune, do not suffice for tragedy. When we contemplate Antigone or OEdipus, it is not with a sentiment of pity struggling against abhorrence.

For these reasons the play does not seem to have a good dramatic subject. The unity is given by Mary herself and her fortunes, and these are scarcely dramatic. History prevents the introduction of Philip till the second scene of the third act. His entrance is manque; he merely accompanies Cardinal Pole, who takes command of the scene, and Philip does not get in a word till after a long conversation between the Queen and the Cardinal. Previously Philip had only crossed the stage in a procession, yet when he does appear he is bereft of prominence. The interest as regards him is indicated, in Act I. scene v., by Mary’s kissing his miniature. Her blighted love for him is one main motive of the tragedy, but his own part appears too subordinate in the play as published. The interest is scattered among the vast crowd of characters; and Mr R. H. Hutton remarked at the time that he “remains something of a cold, cruel, and sensual shadow.” We are more interested in Wyatt, Cranmer, Gardiner, and others; or at least their parts are more interesting. Yet in no case does the interest of any character, except of Mary and Elizabeth, remain continuous throughout the play. Tennyson himself thought that “the real difficulty of the drama is to give sufficient relief to its intense sadness. . . . Nothing less than the holy calm of the meek and penitent Cranmer can be adequate artistic relief.” But not much relief can be drawn from a man about to be burned alive, and history does not tempt us to keen sympathy with the recanting archbishop, at least if we agree with Macaulay rather than with Froude.

I venture to think that historical tradition, as usual, offered a better motive than exact history. Following tradition, we see in Mary a cloud of hateful gloom, from which England escapes into the glorious dawn of “the Gospel light,” and of Elizabeth, who might be made a triumphantly sympathetic character. That is the natural and popular course which the drama might take. But Tennyson’s history is almost critical and scientific. Points of difficult and debated evidence (as to Elizabeth’s part in Wyatt’s rebellion) are discussed. There is no contest of day and darkness, of Truth and Error. The characters are in that perplexed condition about creeds which was their actual state after the political and social and religious chaos produced by Henry VIII. Gardiner is a Catholic, but not an Ultramontane; Lord William Howard is a Catholic, but not a fanatic; we find a truculent Anabaptist, or Socialist, and a citizen whose pride is his moderation. The native uncritical tendency of the drama is to throw up hats and halloo for Elizabeth and an open Bible. In place of this, Cecil delivers a well-considered analysis of the character of Elizabeth

“Eliz. God guide me lest I lose the way. [Exit Elizabeth.
Cecil. Many points weather’d, many perilous ones, At last a harbour opens; but therein
Sunk rocks–they need fine steering–much it is To be nor mad, nor bigot–have a mind –
Nor let Priests’ talk, or dream of worlds to be, Miscolour things about her–sudden touches For him, or him–sunk rocks; no passionate faith – But–if let be–balance and compromise;
Brave, wary, sane to the heart of her–a Tudor School’d by the shadow of death–a Boleyn, too, Glancing across the Tudor–not so well.”

This is excellent as historical criticism, in the favourable sense; but the drama, by its nature, demands something not critical but triumphant and one-sided. The character of Elizabeth is one of the best in the play, as her soliloquy (Act III. scene v.) is one of the finest of the speeches. We see her courage, her coquetry, her dissimulation, her arrogance. But while this is the true Elizabeth, it is not the idealised Elizabeth whom English loyalty created, lived for, and died for. Mr Froude wrote, “You have given us the greatest of all your works,” an opinion which the world can never accept. “You have reclaimed one more section of English History from the wilderness, and given it a form in which it will be fixed for ever. No one since Shakespeare has done that.” But Mr Froude had done it, and Tennyson’s reading of “the section” is mainly that of Mr Froude. Mr Gladstone found that Cranmer and Gardiner “are still in a considerable degree mysteries to me.” A mystery Cranmer must remain. Perhaps the “crowds” and “Voices” are not the least excellent of the characters, Tennyson’s humour finding an opportunity in them, and in Joan and Tib. His idyllic charm speaks in the words of Lady Clarence to the fevered Queen; and there is dramatic genius in her reply:-

“Mary. What is the strange thing happiness? Sit down here: Tell me thine happiest hour.
Lady Clarence. I will, if that
May make your Grace forget yourself a little. There runs a shallow brook across our field For twenty miles, where the black crow flies five, And doth so bound and babble all the way As if itself were happy. It was May-time, And I was walking with the man I loved.
I loved him, but I thought I was not loved. And both were silent, letting the wild brook Speak for us–till he stoop’d and gather’d one From out a bed of thick forget-me-nots,
Look’d hard and sweet at me, and gave it me. I took it, tho’ I did not know I took it, And put it in my bosom, and all at once
I felt his arms about me, and his lips – Mary. O God! I have been too slack, too slack; There are Hot Gospellers even among our guards – Nobles we dared not touch. We have but burnt The heretic priest, workmen, and women and children. Wet, famine, ague, fever, storm, wreck, wrath, – We have so play’d the coward; but by God’s grace, We’ll follow Philip’s leading, and set up The Holy Office here–garner the wheat,
And burn the tares with unquenchable fire!”

The conclusion, in the acting edition, printed in the Biography, appears to be an improvement on that in the text as originally published. Unhappy as the drama essentially is, the welcome which Mr Browning gave both to the published work and to the acted play–“a complete success”: “conception, execution, the whole and the parts, I see nowhere the shadow of a fault”–offers “relief” in actual human nature. “He is the greatest-brained poet in England,” Tennyson said, on a later occasion. “Violets fade, he has given me a crown of gold.”

Before writing Harold (1876) the poet “studied many recent plays,” and re-read AEschylus and Sophocles. For history he went to the Bayeux tapestry, the Roman de Rou, Lord Lytton, and Freeman. Students of a recent controversy will observe that, following Freeman, he retains the famous palisade, so grievously battered by the axe-strokes of Mr Horace Round. Harold is a piece more compressed, and much more in accordance with the traditions of the drama, than Queen Mary. The topic is tragic indeed: the sorrow being that of a great man, a great king, the bulwark of a people that fell with his fall. Moreover, as the topic is treated, the play is rich in the irony usually associated with the name of Sophocles. Victory comes before a fall. Harold, like Antigone, is torn between two duties–his oath and the claims of his country. His ruin comes from what Aristotle would call his [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], his fault in swearing the oath to William. The hero himself; recking little, after a superstitious moment, of the concealed relics over which he swore, deems his offence to lie in swearing a vow which he never meant to keep. The persuasions which urge him to this course are admirably presented: England, Edith, his brother’s freedom, were at stake. Casuistry, or even law, would have absolved him easily; an oath taken under duresse is of no avail. But Harold’s “honour rooted in dishonour stood,” and he cannot so readily absolve himself. Bruce and the bishops who stood by Bruce had no such scruples: they perjured themselves often, on the most sacred relics, especially the bishops. But Harold rises above the mediaeval and magical conception of the oath, and goes to his doom conscious of a stain on his honour, of which only a deeper stain, that of falseness to his country, could make him clean. This is a truly tragic stroke of destiny. The hero’s character is admirably noble, patient, and simple. The Confessor also is as true in art as to history, and his vision of the fall and rise of England is a noble passage. In Aldwyth we have something of Vivien, with a grain of conscience, and the part of Edith Swan’s-neck has a restrained and classic pathos in contrast with the melancholy of Wulfnoth. The piece, as the poet said, is a “tragedy of doom,” of deepening and darkening omens, as in the Odyssey and Njal’s Saga. The battle scene, with the choruses of the monks, makes a noble close.

FitzGerald remained loyal, but it was to “a fairy Prince who came from other skies than these rainy ones,” and “the wretched critics,” as G. H. Lewes called them, seem to have been unfriendly. In fact (besides the innate wretchedness of all critics), they grudged the time and labour given to the drama, in an undramatic age. Harold had not what FitzGerald called “the old champagne flavour” of the vintage of 1842.

Becket was begun in 1876, printed in 1879, and published in 1884. Before that date, in 1880, Tennyson produced one of the volumes of poetry which was more welcome than a play to most of his admirers. The intervening years passed in the Isle of Wight, at Aldworth, in town, and in summer tours, were of no marked biographical interest. The poet was close on three score and ten–he reached that limit in 1879. The days darkened around him, as darken they must: in the spring of 1879 he lost his favourite brother, himself a poet of original genius, Charles Tennyson Turner. In May of the same year he published The Lover’s Tale, which has been treated here among his earliest works. His hours, and (to some extent) his meals, were regulated by Sir Andrew Clark. He planted trees, walked, read, loitered in his garden, and kept up his old friendships, while he made that of the great Gordon. Compliments passed between him and Victor Hugo, who had entertained Lionel Tennyson in Paris, and wrote: “Je lis avec emotion vos vers superbes; c’est un reflet de gloire que vous m’envoyez.” Mr Matthew Arnold’s compliment was very like Mr Arnold’s humour: “Your father has been our most popular poet for over forty years, and I am of opinion that he fully deserves his reputation”: such was “Mat’s sublime waggery.” Tennyson heaped coals of fire on the other poet, bidding him, as he liked to be bidden, to write more poetry, not “prose things.” Tennyson lived much in the society of Browning and George Eliot, and made the acquaintance of Renan. In December 1879 Mr and Mrs Kendal produced The Falcon, which ran for sixty-seven nights; it is “an exquisite little poem in action,” as Fanny Kemble said. During a Continental tour Tennyson visited Catullus’s Sirmio: “here he made his Frater Ave atque Vale,” and the poet composed his beautiful salutation to the

“Tenderest of Roman poets nineteen hundred years ago.”

In 1880 Ballads and other Poems proved that, like Titian, the great poet was not to be defeated by the years. The First Quarrel was in his most popular English style. Rizpah deserved and received the splendid panegyric of Mr Swinburne. The Revenge is probably the finest of the patriotic pieces, and keeps green the memory of an exploit the most marvellous in the annals of English seamen. The Village Wife is a pendant worthy of The Northern Farmer. The poem In the Children’s Hospital caused some irritation at the moment, but there was only one opinion as to the Defence of Lucknow and the beautiful re-telling of the Celtic Voyage of Maeldune. The fragment of Homeric translation was equally fortunate in choice of subject and in rendering.

In the end of 1880 the poet finished The Cup, which had been worked on occasionally since he completed The Falcon in 1880. The piece was read by the author to Sir Henry Irving and his company, and it was found that the manuscript copy needed few alterations to fit it for the stage. The scenery and the acting of the protagonists are not easily to be forgotten. The play ran for a hundred and thirty nights. Sir Henry Irving had thought that Becket (then unpublished) would prove too expensive, and could only be a succes d’estime. Tennyson had found out that “the worst of writing for the stage is, you must keep some actor always in your mind.” To this necessity authors like Moliere and Shakespeare were, of course, resigned and familiar; they knew exactly how to deal with all their means. But this part of the business of play-writing must always be a cross to the poet who is not at one with the world of the stage.

In The Cup Miss Ellen Terry made the strongest impression, her part being noble and sympathetic, while Sir Henry Irving had the ungrateful part of the villain. To be sure, he was a villain of much complexity; and Tennyson thought that his subtle blend of Roman refinement and intellectuality, and barbarian, self-satisfied sensuality, was not “hit off.” Synorix is, in fact, half-Greek, half-Celt, with a Roman education, and the “blend” is rather too remote for successful representation. The traditional villain, from Iago downwards, is not apt to utter such poetry as this:-

“O Thou, that dost inspire the germ with life, The child, a thread within the house of birth, And give him limbs, then air, and send him forth The glory of his father–Thou whose breath Is balmy wind to robe our bills with grass, And kindle all our vales with myrtle-blossom, And roll the golden oceans of our grain, And sway the long grape-bunches of our vines, And fill all hearts with fatness and the lust Of plenty–make me happy in my marriage!”

The year 1881 brought the death of another of the old Cambridge friends, James Spedding, the biographer of Bacon; and Carlyle also died, a true friend, if rather intermittent in his appreciation of poetry. The real Carlyle did appreciate it, but the Carlyle of attitude was too much of the iron Covenanter to express what he felt. The poem Despair irritated the earnest and serious readers of “know- nothing books.” The poem expressed, dramatically, a mood like another, a human mood not so very uncommon. A man ruined in this world’s happiness curses the faith of his youth, and the unfaith of his reading and reflection, and tries to drown himself. This is one conclusion of the practical syllogism, and it is a free country. However, there were freethinkers who did not think that Tennyson’s kind of thinking ought to be free. Other earnest persons objected to “First drink a health,” in the re-fashioned song of Hands all Round. They might have remembered a royal health drunk in water an hour before the drinkers swept Mackay down the Pass of Killiecrankie. The poet did not specify the fluid in which the toast was to be carried, and the cup might be that which “cheers but not inebriates.” “The common cup,” as the remonstrants had to be informed, “has in all ages been the sacred symbol of unity.”

The Promise of May was produced in November 1882, and the poet was once more so unfortunate as to vex the susceptibilities of advanced thinkers. The play is not a masterpiece, and yet neither the gallery gods nor the Marquis of Queensberry need have felt their withers wrung. The hero, or villain, Edgar, is a perfectly impossible person, and represents no kind of political, social, or economical thinker. A man would give all other bliss and all his worldly wealth for this, to waste his whole strength in one kick upon this perfect prig. He employs the arguments of evolution and so forth to justify the seduction of a little girl of fifteen, and later, by way of making amends, proposes to commit incest by marrying her sister. There have been evolutionists, to be sure, who believed in promiscuity, like Mr Edgar, as preferable to monogamy. But this only proves that an evolutionist may fail to understand evolution. There be also such folk as Stevenson calls “squirradicals”–squires who say that “the land is the people’s.” Probably no advocate of promiscuity, and no squirradical, was present at the performances of The Promise of May. But people of advanced minds had got it into their heads that their doctrines were to be attacked, so they went and made a hubbub in the sacred cause of freedom of thought and speech. The truth is, that controversial topics, political topics, ought not to be brought into plays, much less into sermons. Tennyson meant Edgar for “nothing thorough, nothing sincere.” He is that venomous thing, the prig-scoundrel: he does not suit the stage, and his place, if anywhere, is in the novel. Advocates of marriage with a deceased wife’s sister might have applauded Edgar for wishing to marry the sister of a mistress assumed to be deceased, but no other party in the State wanted anything except the punching of Edgar’s head by Farmer Dobson.

In 1883 died Edward FitzGerald, the most kind, loyal, and, as he said, crotchety of old and dear Cambridge friends. He did not live to see the delightful poem which Tennyson had written for him. In almost his latest letter he had remarked, superfluously, that when he called the task of translating The Agamemnon “work for a poet,” he “was not thinking of Mr Browning.”

In the autumn of 1883 Tennyson was taken, with Mr Gladstone, by Sir Donald Currie, for a cruise round the west coast of Scotland, to the Orkneys, and to Copenhagen. The people of Kirkwall conferred on the poet and the statesman the freedom of the burgh, and Mr Gladstone, in an interesting speech, compared the relative chances of posthumous fame of the poet and the politician. Pericles is not less remembered than Sophocles, though Shakespeare is more in men’s minds than Cecil. Much depends, as far as the statesmen are considered, on contemporary historians. It is Thucydides who immortalises Pericles. But it is improbable that the things which Mr Gladstone did, and attempted, will be forgotten more rapidly than the conduct and characters of, say, Burleigh or Lethington.

In 1884, after this voyage, with its royal functions and celebrations at Copenhagen, a peerage was offered to the poet. He “did not want to alter his plain Mr,” and he must have known that, whether he accepted or refused, the chorus of blame would be louder than that of applause. Scott had desired “such grinning honour as Sir Walter hath”; the title went well with the old name, and pleased his love of old times. Tennyson had been blamed “by literary men” for thrice evading a baronetcy, and he did not think that a peerage would make smooth the lives of his descendants. But he concluded, “Why should I be selfish and not suffer an honour (as Gladstone says) to be done to literature in my name?” Politically, he thought that the Upper House, while it lasts, partly supplied the place of the American “referendum.” He voted in July 1884 for the extension of the franchise, and in November stated his views to Mr Gladstone in verse. In prose he wrote to Mr Gladstone, “I have a strong conviction that the more simple the dealings of men with men, as well as of man with man, are–the better,” a sentiment which, perhaps, did not always prevail with his friend. The poet’s reflections on the horror of Gordon’s death are not recorded. He introduced the idea of the Gordon Home for Boys, and later supported it by a letter, “Have we forgotten Gordon?” to the Daily Telegraph. They who cannot forget Gordon must always be grateful to Tennyson for providing this opportunity of honouring the greatest of an illustrious clan, and of helping, in their degree, a scheme which was dear to the heroic leader.

The poet, very naturally, was most averse to personal appearance in public matters. Mankind is so fashioned that the advice of a poet is always regarded as unpractical, and is even apt to injure the cause which he advocates. Happily there cannot be two opinions about the right way of honouring Gordon. Tennyson’s poem, The Fleet, was also in harmony with the general sentiment.

In the last month of 1884 Becket was published. The theme of Fair Rosamund had appealed to the poet in youth, and he had written part of a lyric which he judiciously left unpublished. It is given in his Biography. In 1877 he had visited Canterbury, and had traced the steps of Becket to his place of slaughter in the Cathedral. The poem was printed in 1879, but not published till seven years later. In 1879 Sir Henry Irving had thought the play too costly to be produced with more than a succes d’estime; but in 1891 he put it on the stage, where it proved the most successful of modern poetic dramas. As published it is, obviously, far too long for public performance. It is not easy to understand why dramatic poets always make their works so much too long. The drama seems, by its very nature, to have a limit almost as distinct as the limit of the sonnet. It is easy to calculate how long a play for the stage ought to be, and we might think that a poet would find the natural limit serviceable to his art, for it inculcates selection, conciseness, and concentration. But despite these advantages of the natural form of the drama, modern poets, at least, constantly overflow their banks. The author ruit profusus, and the manager has to reduce the piece to feasible proportions, such as it ought to have assumed from the first.

Becket has been highly praised by Sir Henry Irving himself, for its “moments of passion and pathos, . . . which, when they exist, atone to an audience for the endurance of long acts.” But why should the audience have such long acts to endure? The reader, one fears, is apt to use his privilege of skipping. The long speeches of Walter Map and the immense period of Margery tempt the student to exercise his agility. A “chronicle play” has the privilege of wandering, but Becket wanders too far and too long. The political details of the quarrel between Church and State, with its domestic and international complexities, are apt to fatigue the attention. Inevitable and insoluble as the situation was, neither protagonist is entirely sympathetic, whether in the play or in history. The struggle in Becket between his love of the king and his duty to the Church (or what he takes to be his duty) is nobly presented, and is truly dramatic, while there is grotesque and terrible relief in the banquet of the Beggars. In the scene of the assassination the poet “never stoops his wing,” and there are passages of tender pathos between Henry and Rosamund, while Becket’s keen memories of his early days, just before his death, are moving.

“Becket. I once was out with Henry in the days When Henry loved me, and we came upon
A wild-fowl sitting on her nest, so still I reach’d my hand and touch’d; she did not stir; The snow had frozen round her, and she sat Stone-dead upon a heap of ice-cold eggs. Look! how this love, this mother, runs thro’ all The world God made–even the beast–the bird! John of Salisbury. Ay, still a lover of the beast and bird? But these arm’d men–will you not hide yourself? Perchance the fierce De Brocs from Saltwood Castle, To assail our Holy Mother lest she brood Too long o’er this hard egg, the world, and send Her whole heart’s heat into it, till it break Into young angels. Pray you, hide yourself. Becket. There was a little fair-hair’d Norman maid Lived in my mother’s house: if Rosamund is The world’s rose, as her name imports her–she Was the world’s lily.
John of Salisbury. Ay, and what of her? Becket. She died of leprosy.”

But the part of Rosamund, her innocent ignorance especially, is not very readily intelligible, not quite persuasive, and there is almost a touch of the burlesque in her unexpected appearance as a monk. To weave that old and famous story of love into the terribly complex political intrigue was a task almost too great. The character of Eleanor is perhaps more successfully drawn in the Prologue than in the scene where she offers the choice of the dagger or the bowl, and is interrupted, in a startlingly unexpected manner, by the Archbishop himself. The opportunities for scenic effects are magnificent throughout, and must have contributed greatly to the success on the stage. Still one cannot but regard the published Becket as rather the marble from which the statue may be hewn than as the statue itself. There are fine scenes, powerful and masterly drawing of character in Henry, Eleanor, and Becket, but there is a want of concentration, due, perhaps, to the long period of time covered by the action. So, at least, it seems to a reader who has admitted his sense of incompetency in the dramatic region. The acuteness of the poet’s power of historical intuition was attested by Mr J. R. Green and Mr Bryce. “One cannot imagine,” said Mr Bryce, “a more vivid, a more perfectly faithful picture than it gives both of Henry and Thomas.” Tennyson’s portraits of these two “go beyond and perfect history.” The poet’s sympathy ought, perhaps, to have been, if not with the false and ruffianly Henry, at least with Henry’s side of the question. For Tennyson had made Harold leave

“To England
My legacy of war against the Pope
From child to child, from Pope to Pope, from age to age, Till the sea wash her level with her shores, Or till the Pope be Christ’s.”


The end of 1884 saw the publication of Tiresias and other Poems, dedicated to “My good friend, Robert Browning,” and opening with the beautiful verses to one who never was Mr Browning’s friend, Edward FitzGerald. The volume is rich in the best examples of Tennyson’s later work. Tiresias, the monologue of the aged seer, blinded by excess of light when he beheld Athene unveiled, and under the curse of Cassandra, is worthy of the author who, in youth, wrote OEnone and Ulysses. Possibly the verses reflect Tennyson’s own sense of public indifference to the voice of the poet and the seer. But they are of much earlier date than the year of publication:-

“For when the crowd would roar
For blood, for war, whose issue was their doom, To cast wise words among the multitude
Was flinging fruit to lions; nor, in hours Of civil outbreak, when I knew the twain Would each waste each, and bring on both the yoke Of stronger states, was mine the voice to curb The madness of our cities and their kings. Who ever turn’d upon his heel to hear
My warning that the tyranny of one
Was prelude to the tyranny of all?
My counsel that the tyranny of all
Led backward to the tyranny of one? This power hath work’d no good to aught that lives.”

The conclusion was a favourite with the author, and his blank verse never reached a higher strain:-

“But for me,
I would that I were gather’d to my rest, And mingled with the famous kings of old, On whom about their ocean-islets flash
The faces of the Gods–the wise man’s word, Here trampled by the populace underfoot, There crown’d with worship–and these eyes will find The men I knew, and watch the chariot whirl About the goal again, and hunters race
The shadowy lion, and the warrior-kings, In height and prowess more than human, strive Again for glory, while the golden lyre
Is ever sounding in heroic ears
Heroic hymns, and every way the vales Wind, clouded with the grateful incense-fume Of those who mix all odour to the Gods
On one far height in one far-shining fire.”

Then follows the pathetic piece on FitzGerald’s death, and the prayer, not unfulfilled –

“That, when I from hence
Shall fade with him into the unknown, My close of earth’s experience
May prove as peaceful as his own.”

The Ancient Sage, with its lyric interludes, is one of Tennyson’s meditations on the mystery of the world and of existence. Like the poet himself, the Sage finds a gleam of light and hope in his own subjective experiences of some unspeakable condition, already recorded in In Memoriam. The topic was one on which he seems to have spoken to his friends with freedom:-

“And more, my son! for more than once when I Sat all alone, revolving in myself
The word that is the symbol of myself, The mortal limit of the Self was loosed, And past into the Nameless, as a cloud
Melts into Heaven. I touch’d my limbs, the limbs Were strange not mine–and yet no shade of doubt, But utter clearness, and thro’ loss of Self The gain of such large life as match’d with ours Were Sun to spark–unshadowable in words, Themselves but shadows of a shadow-world.”

The poet’s habit of

“Revolving in myself
The word that is the symbol of myself” –

that is, of dwelling on the sound of his own name, was familiar to the Arabs. M. Lefebure has drawn my attention to a passage in the works of a mediaeval Arab philosopher, Ibn Khaldoun: {17} “To arrive at the highest degree of inspiration of which he is capable, the diviner should have recourse to the use of certain phrases marked by a peculiar cadence and parallelism. Thus he emancipates his mind from the influence of the senses, and is enabled to attain an imperfect contact with the spiritual world.” Ibn Khaldoun regards the “contact” as extremely “imperfect.” He describes similar efforts made by concentrating the gaze on a mirror, a bowl of water, or the like. Tennyson was doubtless unaware that he had stumbled accidentally on a method of “ancient sages.” Psychologists will explain his experience by the word “dissociation.” It is not everybody, however, who can thus dissociate himself. The temperament of genius has often been subject to such influence, as M. Lefebure has shown in the modern instances of George Sand and Alfred de Musset: we might add Shelley, Goethe, and even Scott.

The poet’s versatility was displayed in the appearance with these records of “weird seizures”, of the Irish dialect piece To-morrow, the popular Spinster’s Sweet-Arts, and the Locksley Hall Sixty Years After. The old fire of the versification is unabated, but the hero has relapsed on the gloom of the hero of Maud. He represents himself, of course, not Tennyson, or only one of the moods of Tennyson, which were sometimes black enough. A very different mood chants the Charge of the Heavy Brigade, and speaks of

“Green Sussex fading into blue
With one gray glimpse of sea.”

The lines To Virgil were written at the request of the Mantuans, by the most Virgilian of all the successors of the

“Wielder of the stateliest measure
ever moulded by the lips of man.”

Never was Tennyson more Virgilian than in this unmatched panegyric, the sum and flower of criticism of that

“Golden branch amid the shadows,
kings and realms that pass to rise no more.”

Hardly less admirable is the tribute to Catullus, and the old poet is young again in the bird-song of Early Spring. The lines on Poets and their Bibliographies, with The Dead Prophet, express Tennyson’s lifelong abhorrence of the critics and biographers, whose joy is in the futile and the unimportant, in personal gossip and the sweepings of the studio, the salvage of the wastepaper basket. The Prefatory Poem to my Brother’s Sonnets is not only touching in itself, but proves that the poet can “turn to favour and to prettiness” such an affliction as the ruinous summer of 1879.

The year 1880 brought deeper distress in the death of the poet’s son Lionel, whose illness, begun in India, ended fatally in the Red Sea. The interest of the following years was mainly domestic. The poet’s health, hitherto robust, was somewhat impaired in 1888, but his vivid interest in affairs and in letters was unabated. He consoled himself with Virgil, Keats, Wordsworth, Gibbon, Euripides, and Mr Leaf’s speculations on the composite nature of the Iliad, in which Coleridge, perhaps alone among poets, believed. “You know,” said Tennyson to Mr Leaf; “I never liked that theory of yours about the many poets.” It would be at least as easy to prove that there were many authors of Ivanhoe, or perhaps it would be a good deal more easy. However, he admitted that three lines which occur both in the Eighth and the Sixteenth Books of the Iliad are more appropriate in the later book. Similar examples might be found in his own poems. He still wrote, in the intervals of a malady which brought him “as near death as a man could be without dying.” He was an example of the great physical strength which, on the whole, seems usually to accompany great mental power. The strength may be dissipated by passion, or by undue labour, as in cases easily recalled to memory, but neither cause had impaired the vigour of Tennyson. Like Goethe, he lived out all his life; and his eightieth birthday was cheered both by public and private expressions of reverence and affection.

Of Tennyson’s last three years on earth we may think, in his own words, that his

“Life’s latest eve endured
Nor settled into hueless grey.”

Nature was as dear to him and as inspiring as of old; men and affairs and letters were not slurred by his intact and energetic mind. His Demeter and other Poems, with the dedication to Lord Dufferin, appeared in the December of the year. The dedication was the lament for the dead son and the salutation to the Viceroy of India, a piece of resigned and manly regret. The Demeter and Persephone is a modern and tender study of the theme of the most beautiful Homeric Hymn. The ancient poet had no such thought of the restored Persephone as that which impels Tennyson to describe her

“Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies All night across the darkness, and at dawn Falls on the threshold of her native land.”

The spring, the restored Persephone, comes more vigorous and joyous to the shores of the AEgean than to ours. All Tennyson’s own is Demeter’s awe of those “imperial disimpassioned eyes” of her daughter, come from the bed and the throne of Hades, the Lord of many guests. The hymn, happy in its ending, has no thought of the grey heads of the Fates, and their answer to the goddess concerning “fate beyond the Fates,” and the breaking of the bonds of Hades. The ballad of Owd Roa is one of the most spirited of the essays in dialect to which Tennyson had of late years inclined. Vastness merely expresses, in terms of poetry, Tennyson’s conviction that, without immortality, life is a series of worthless contrasts. An opposite opinion may be entertained, but a man has a right to express his own, which, coming from so great a mind, is not undeserving of attention; or, at least, is hardly deserving of reproof. The poet’s idea is also stated thus in The Ring, in terms which perhaps do not fall below the poetical; or, at least, do not drop into “the utterly unpoetical”:-

“The Ghost in Man, the Ghost that once was Man, But cannot wholly free itself from Man,
Are calling to each other thro’ a dawn Stranger than earth has ever seen; the veil Is rending, and the Voices of the day
Are heard across the Voices of the dark. No sudden heaven, nor sudden hell, for man, But thro’ the Will of One who knows and rules – And utter knowledge is but utter love –
AEonian Evolution, swift or slow,
Thro’ all the Spheres–an ever opening height, An ever lessening earth.”

The Ring is, in fact, a ghost story based on a legend told by Mr Lowell about a house near where he had once lived; one of those houses vexed by

“A footstep, a low throbbing in the walls, A noise of falling weights that never fell, Weird whispers, bells that rang without a hand, Door-handles turn’d when none was at the door, And bolted doors that open’d of themselves.”

These phenomena were doubtless caused by rats and water-pipes, but they do not destroy the pity and the passion of the tale. The lines to Mary Boyle are all of the normal world, and worthy of a poet’s youth and of the spring. Merlin and the Gleam is the spiritual allegory of the poet’s own career:-

“Arthur had vanish’d
I knew not whither,
The king who loved me,
And cannot die.”

So at last

“All but in Heaven
Hovers The Gleam,”

whither the wayfarer was soon to follow. There is a marvellous hope and pathos in the melancholy of these all but the latest songs, reminiscent of youth and love, and even of the dim haunting memories and dreams of infancy. No other English poet has thus rounded all his life with music. Tennyson was in his eighty-first year, when there “came in a moment” the crown of his work, the immortal lyric, Crossing the Bar. It is hardly less majestic and musical in the perfect Greek rendering by his brother-in-law, Mr Lushington. For once at least a poem has been “poured from the golden to the silver cup” without the spilling of a drop. The new book’s appearance was coincident with the death of Mr Browning, “so loving and appreciative,” as Lady Tennyson wrote; a friend, not a rival, however the partisans of either poet might strive to stir emulation between two men of such lofty and such various genius.

CHAPTER X.–1890.

In the year 1889 the poet’s health had permitted him to take long walks on the sea-shore and along the cliffs, one of which, by reason of its whiteness, he had named “Taliessin,” “the splendid brow.” His mind ran on a poem founded on an Egyptian legend (of which the source is not mentioned), telling how “despair and death came upon him who was mad enough to try to probe the secret of the universe.” He also thought of a drama on Tristram, who, in the Idylls, is treated with brevity, and not with the sympathy of the old writer who cries, “God bless Tristram the knight: he fought for England!” But early in 1890 Tennyson suffered from a severe attack of influenza. In May Mr Watts painted his portrait, and

“Divinely through all hindrance found the man.”

Tennyson was a great admirer of Miss Austen’s novels: “The realism and life-likeness of Miss Austen’s Dramatis Personae come nearest to those of Shakespeare. Shakespeare, however, is a sun to which Jane Austen, though a bright and true little world, is but an asteroid.” He was therefore pleased to find apple-blossoms co-existing with ripe strawberries on June 28, as Miss Austen has been blamed, by minute philosophers, for introducing this combination in the garden party in Emma. The poet, like most of the good and great, read novels eagerly, and excited himself over the confirmation of an adult male in a story by Miss Yonge. Of Scott, “the most chivalrous literary figure of the century, and the author with the widest range since Shakespeare,” he preferred Old Mortality, and it is a good choice. He hated “morbid and introspective tales, with their oceans of sham philosophy.” At this time, with catholic taste, he read Mr Stevenson and Mr Meredith, Miss Braddon and Mr Henry James, Ouida and Mr Thomas Hardy; Mr Hall Caine and Mr Anstey; Mrs Oliphant and Miss Edna Lyall. Not everybody can peruse all of these very diverse authors with pleasure. He began his poem on the Roman gladiatorial combats; indeed his years, fourscore and one, left his intellectual eagerness as unimpaired as that of Goethe. “A crooked share,” he said to the Princess Louise, “may make a straight furrow.” “One afternoon he had a long waltz with M- in the ballroom.” Speaking of

“All the charm of all the Muses
Often flowering in a lonely word”

in Virgil, he adduced, rather strangely, the cunctantem ramum, said of the Golden Bough, in the Sixth AEneid. The choice is odd, because the Sibyl has just told AEneas that, if he be destined to pluck the branch of gold, ipse volens facilisque sequetur, “it will come off of its own accord,” like the sacred ti branches of the Fijians, which bend down to be plucked for the Fire rite. Yet, when the predestined AEneas tries to pluck the bough of gold, it yields reluctantly (cunctantem), contrary to what the Sibyl has foretold. Mr Conington, therefore, thought the phrase a slip on the part of Virgil. “People accused Virgil of plagiarising,” he said, “but if a man made it his own there was no harm in that (look at the great poets, Shakespeare included).” Tennyson, like Virgil, made much that was ancient his own; his verses are often, and purposefully, a mosaic of classical reminiscences. But he was vexed by the hunters after remote and unconscious resemblances, and far-fetched analogies between his lines and those of others. He complained that, if he said that the sun went down, a parallel was at once cited from Homer, or anybody else, and he used a very powerful phrase to condemn critics who detected such repetitions. “The moanings of the homeless sea,”–“moanings” from Horace, “homeless” from Shelley. “As if no one else had ever heard the sea moan except Horace!” Tennyson’s mixture of memory and forgetfulness was not so strange as that of Scott, and when he adapted from the Greek, Latin, or Italian, it was of set purpose, just as it was with Virgil. The beautiful lines comparing a girl’s eyes to bottom agates that seem to

“Wave and float
In crystal currents of clear running seas,”

he invented while bathing in Wales. It was his habit, to note down in verse such similes from nature, and to use them when he found occasion. But the higher criticism, analysing the simile, detected elements from Shakespeare and from Beaumont and Fletcher.

In June 1891 the poet went on a tour in Devonshire, and began his Akbar, and probably wrote June Bracken and Heather; or perhaps it was composed when “we often sat on the top of Blackdown to watch the sunset.” He wrote to Mr Kipling –

“The oldest to the youngest singer
That England bore”

(to alter Mr Swinburne’s lines to Landor), praising his Flag of England. Mr Kipling replied as “the private to the general.”

Early in 1892 The Foresters was successfully produced at New York by Miss Ada Rehan, the music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and the scenery from woodland designs by Whymper. Robin Hood (as we learn from Mark Twain) is a favourite hero with the youth of America. Mr Tom Sawyer himself took, in Mark Twain’s tale, the part of the bold outlaw.

The Death of OEnone was published in 1892, with the dedication to the Master of Balliol –

“Read a Grecian tale retold
Which, cast in later Grecian mould, Quintus Calaber
Somewhat lazily handled of old.”

Quintus Calaber, more usually called Quintus Smyrnaeus, is a writer of perhaps the fourth century of our era. About him nothing, or next to nothing, is known. He told, in so late an age, the conclusion of the Tale of Troy, and (in the writer’s opinion) has been unduly neglected and disdained. His manner, I venture to think, is more Homeric than that of the more famous and doubtless greater Alexandrian poet of the Argonautic cycle, Apollonius Rhodius, his senior by five centuries. His materials were probably the ancient and lost poems of the Epic Cycle, and the story of the death of OEnone may be from the Little Iliad of Lesches. Possibly parts of his work may be textually derived from the Cyclics, but the topic is very obscure. In Quintus, Paris, after encountering evil omens on his way, makes a long speech, imploring the pardon of the deserted OEnone. She replies, not with the Tennysonian brevity; she sends him back to the helpless arms of her rival, Helen. Paris dies on the hills; never did Helen see him returning. The wood-nymphs bewail Paris, and a herdsman brings the bitter news to Helen, who chants her lament. But remorse falls on OEnone. She does not go

“Slowly down
By the long torrent’s ever-deepened roar,”

but rushes “swift as the wind to seek and spring upon the pyre of her lord.” Fate and Aphrodite drive her headlong, and in heaven Selene, remembering Endymion, bewails the lot of her sister in sorrow. OEnone reaches the funeral flame, and without a word or a cry leaps into her husband’s arms, the wild Nymphs wondering. The lovers are mingled in one heap of ashes, and these are bestowed in one vessel of gold and buried in a howe. This is the story which the poet rehandled in his old age, completing the work of his happy youth when he walked with Hallam in the Pyrenean hills, that were to him as Ida. The romance of OEnone and her death condone, as even Homer was apt to condone, the sins of beautiful Paris, whom the nymphs lament, despite the evil that he has wrought. The silence of the veiled OEnone, as she springs into her lover’s last embrace, is perhaps more affecting and more natural than Tennyson’s

“She lifted up a voice
Of shrill command, ‘Who burns upon the pyre?'”

The St Telemachus has the old splendour and vigour of verse, and, though written so late in life, is worthy of the poet’s prime:-

“Eve after eve that haggard anchorite Would haunt the desolated fane, and there Gaze at the ruin, often mutter low
‘Vicisti Galilaee’; louder again,
Spurning a shatter’d fragment of the God, ‘Vicisti Galilaee!’ but–when now
Bathed in that lurid crimson–ask’d ‘Is earth On fire to the West? or is the Demon-god Wroth at his fall?’ and heard an answer ‘Wake Thou deedless dreamer, lazying out a life Of self-suppression, not of selfless love.’ And once a flight of shadowy fighters crost The disk, and once, he thought, a shape with wings Came sweeping by him, and pointed to the West, And at his ear he heard a whisper ‘Rome,’ And in his heart he cried ‘The call of God!’ And call’d arose, and, slowly plunging down Thro’ that disastrous glory, set his face By waste and field and town of alien tongue, Following a hundred sunsets, and the sphere Of westward-wheeling stars; and every dawn Struck from him his own shadow on to Rome. Foot-sore, way-worn, at length he touch’d his goal, The Christian city.”

Akbar’s Dream may be taken, more or less, to represent the poet’s own theology of a race seeking after God, if perchance they may find Him, and the closing Hymn was a favourite with Tennyson. He said, “It is a magnificent metre”:-



Once again thou flamest heavenward, once again we see thee rise. Every morning is thy birthday gladdening human hearts and eyes. Every morning here we greet it, bowing lowly down before thee, Thee the Godlike, thee the changeless in thine ever-changing skies.


Shadow-maker, shadow-slayer, arrowing light from clime to clime, Hear thy myriad laureates hail thee monarch in their woodland rhyme. Warble bird, and open flower, and, men, below the dome of azure Kneel adoring Him the Timeless in the flame that measures Time!”

In this final volume the poet cast his handful of incense on the altar of Scott, versifying the tale of Il Bizarro, which the dying Sir Walter records in his Journal in Italy. The Churchwarden and the Curate is not inferior to the earlier peasant poems in its expression of shrewdness, humour, and superstition. A verse of Poets and Critics may be taken as the poet’s last word on the old futile quarrel:-

“This thing, that thing is the rage,
Helter-skelter runs the age;
Minds on this round earth of ours
Vary like the leaves and flowers,
Fashion’d after certain laws;
Sing thou low or loud or sweet,
All at all points thou canst not meet, Some will pass and some will pause.

What is true at last will tell:
Few at first will place thee well;
Some too low would have thee shine, Some too high–no fault of thine –
Hold thine own, and work thy will! Year will graze the heel of year,
But seldom comes the poet here,
And the Critic’s rarer still.”

Still the lines hold good –

“Some too low would have thee shine,
Some too high–no fault of thine.”

The end was now at hand. A sense of weakness was felt by the poet on September 3, 1892: on the 28th his family sent for Sir Andrew Clark; but the patient gradually faded out of life, and expired on Thursday, October 6, at 1.35 A.M. To the very last he had Shakespeare by him, and his windows were open to the sun; on the last night they were

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