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Their manners were more engaging, their tempers more amiable, their tastes more elegant, and their households more cheerful.

Milton did not strictly belong to any of the classes which we have described. He was not a Puritan. He was not a freethinker. He was not a Royalist. In his character the noblest qualities of every party were combined in harmonious union. From the Parliament and from the court, from the conventicle and from the Gothic cloister, from the gloomy and sepulchral circles of the Roundheads, and from the Christmas revel of the hospitable Cavalier, his nature selected and drew to itself whatever was great and good, while it rejected all the base and pernicious ingredients by which those finer elements were defiled. Like the Puritans, he lived

“As ever in his great taskmaster’s eye.”

Like them, he kept his mind continually fixed on the Almighty Judge and an eternal reward. And hence he acquired their contempt of external circumstances, their fortitude, their tranquillity, their inflexible resolution. But not the coolest sceptic or the most profane scoffer was more perfectly free from the contagion of their frantic delusions, their savage manners, their ludicrous jargon, their scorn of science, and their aversion to pleasure. Hating tyranny with a perfect hatred, he had nevertheless all the estimable and ornamental qualities which were almost entirely monopolized by the party of the tyrant. There was none who had a stronger sense of the value of literature, a finer relish for every elegant amusement, or a more chivalrous delicacy of honor and love. Though his opinions were democratic, his tastes and his associations were such as best harmonize with monarchy and aristocracy. He was under the influence of all the feelings by which the gallant Cavaliers were misled. But of those feelings he was the master, and not the slave. Like the hero of Homer, he enjoyed all the pleasures of fascination; but he was not fascinated. He listened to the song of the Sirens; yet he glided by without being seduced to their fatal shore. He tasted the cup of Circe; but he bore about him a sure antidote against the effects of its bewitching sweetness. The illusions which captivated his imagination never impaired his reasoning powers. The statesman was proof against the splendor, the solemnity, and the romance which enchanted the poet. Any person who will contrast the sentiments expressed in his treatises on Prelacy with the exquisite lines on ecclesiastical architecture and music in the Penseroso, which was published about the same time, will understand our meaning. This is an inconsistency which, more than anything else, raises his character in our estimation, because it shows how many private tastes and feelings he sacrificed, in order to do what he considered his duty to mankind. It is the very struggle of the noble Othello. His heart relents; but his hand is firm. He does naught in hate, but all in honor. He kisses the beautiful deceiver before he destroys her.

That from which the public character of Milton derives its great and peculiar splendor still remains to be mentioned. If he exerted himself to overthrow a forsworn king and a persecuting hierarchy, he exerted himself in conjunction with others. But the glory of the battle which he fought for the species of freedom which is the most valuable, and which was then the least understood, the freedom of the human mind, is all his own. Thousands and tens of thousands among his contemporaries raised their voices against ship-money and the Star-chamber. But there were few indeed who discerned the more fearful evils of moral and intellectual slavery, and the benefits which would result from liberty of the press and the unfettered exercise of private judgment. These were the objects which Milton justly conceived to be the most important. He was desirous that the people should think for themselves as well as tax themselves, and should be emancipated from the dominion of prejudice as well as from that of Charles. He knew that those who, with the best intentions, overlooked these schemes of reform, and contented themselves with pulling down the King and imprisoning the malignants, acted like the heedless brothers in his own poem, who, in their eagerness to disperse the train of the sorcerer, neglected the means of liberating the captive. They thought only of conquering when they should have thought of disenchanting.

“Oh, ye mistook! Ye should have snatched his wand And bound him fast. Without the rod reversed, And backward mutters of dissevering power, We cannot free the lady that sits here Bound in strong fetters fixed and motionless.”

To reverse the rod, to spell the charm backward, to break the ties which bound a stupefied people to the seat of enchantment, was the noble aim of Milton. To this all his public conduct was directed. For this he joined the Presbyterians; for this he forsook them. He fought their perilous battle; but he turned away with disdain from their insolent triumph. He saw that they, like those whom they had vanquished, were hostile to the liberty of thought. He therefore joined the Independents, and called upon Cromwell to break the secular chain, and to save free conscience from the paw of the Presbyterian wolf. With a view to the same great object, he attacked the licensing system, in that sublime treatise which every statesman should wear as a sign upon his hand and as frontlets between his eyes. His attacks were, in general, directed less against particular abuses than against those deeply-seated errors on which almost all abuses are founded, the servile worship of eminent men and the irrational dread of innovation.

That he might shake the foundations of these debasing sentiments more effectually, he always selected for himself the boldest literary services. He never came up in the rear, when the outworks had been carried and the breach entered. He pressed into the forlorn hope. At the beginning of the changes, he wrote with incomparable energy and eloquence against the bishops. But when his opinion seemed likely to prevail, he passed on to other subjects, and abandoned prelacy to the crowd of writers who now hastened to insult a falling party. There is no more hazardous enterprise than that of bearing the torch of truth into those dark and infected recesses in which no light has ever shone. But it was the choice and the pleasure of Milton to penetrate the noisome vapors, and to brave the terrible explosion. Those who most disapprove of his opinions must respect the hardihood with which he maintained them. He, in general, left to others the credit of expounding and defending the popular parts of his religious and political creed. He took his own stand upon those which the great body of his countrymen reprobated as criminal, or derided as paradoxical. He stood up for divorce and regicide. He attacked the prevailing systems of education. His radiant and beneficent career resembled that of the god of light and fertility.

“Nitor in adversum; nec me, qui caetera, vincit Impetus, et rapido contrarius evehor orbi.”

It is to be regretted that the prose writings of Milton should, in our time, be so little read. As compositions, they deserve the attention of every man who wishes to become acquainted with the full power of the English language. They abound with passages compared with which the finest declamations of Burke sink into insignificance. They are a perfect field of cloth of gold. The style is stiff with gorgeous embroidery. Not even in the earlier books of the Paradise Lost has the great poet ever risen higher than in those parts of his controversial works in which his feelings, excited by conflict, find a vent in bursts of devotional and lyrical rapture. It is, to borrow his own majestic language, “a sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies.”

We had intended to look more closely at these performances, to analyze the peculiarities of the diction, to dwell at some length on the sublime wisdom of the Areopagitica and the nervous rhetoric of the Iconoclast and to point out some of those magnificent passages which occur in the Treatise of Reformation, and the Animadversions on the Remonstrant. But the length to which our remarks have already extended renders this impossible.

We must conclude. And yet we can scarcely tear ourselves away from the subject. The days immediately following the publication of this relic of Milton appear to be peculiarly set apart, and consecrated to his memory. And we shall scarcely be censured if, on this his festival, we be found lingering near his shrine, how worthless soever may be the offering which we bring to it. While this book lies on our table, we seem to be contemporaries of the writer. We are transported a hundred and fifty years back. We can almost fancy that we are visiting him in his small lodging; that we see him sitting at the old organ beneath the faded green hangings; that we can catch the quick twinkle of his eyes, rolling in vain to find the day; that we are reading in the lines of his noble countenance the proud and mournful history of his glory and his affliction. We imagine to ourselves the breathless silence in which we should listen to his slightest word, the passionate veneration with which we should kneel to kiss his hand and weep upon it, the earnestness with which we should endeavor to console him, if indeed such a spirit could need consolation, for the neglect of an age unworthy of his talents and his virtues, the eagerness with which we should contest with his daughters, or with his Quaker friend Elwood, the privilege of reading Homer to him, or of taking down the immortal accents which flowed from his lips.

These are perhaps foolish feelings. Yet we cannot be ashamed of them; nor shall we be sorry if what we have written shall in any degree excite them in other minds. We are not much in the habit of idolizing either the living or the dead. And we think that there is no more certain indication of a weak and ill-regulated intellect than that propensity which, for want of a better name, we will venture to christen Boswellism. But there are a few characters which have stood the closest scrutiny and the severest tests, which have been tried in the furnace and have proved pure, which have been weighed in the balance and have not been found wanting, which have been declared sterling by the general consent of mankind, and which are visibly stamped with the image and superscription of the Most High. These great men we trust that we know how to prize; and of these was Milton. The sight of his books, the sound of his name, are pleasant to us. His thoughts resemble those celestial fruits and flowers which the Virgin Martyr of Massinger sent down from the gardens of Paradise to the earth, and which were distinguished from the productions of other soils, not only by superior bloom and sweetness, but by miraculous efficacy to invigorate and to heal. They are powerful, not only to delight, but to elevate and purify. Nor do we envy the man who can study either the life or the writings of the great poet and patriot without aspiring to emulate, not indeed the sublime works with which his genius has enriched our literature, but the zeal with which he labored for the public good, the fortitude with which he endured every private calamity, the lofty disdain with which he looked down on temptations and dangers, the deadly hatred which he bore to bigots and tyrants, and the faith which he so sternly kept with his country and with his fame.






Genius of the supreme order presupposes a nature of equal scope as the prime condition of its being. The Gardens of Adonis require little earth, but the oak will not flourish in a tub; and the wine of Tokay is the product of no green-house, nor gotten of sour grapes. Given a genuine great poet, you will find a greater man behind, in whom, among others, these virtues predominate,–courage, generosity, truth.

[Footnote 5: From “Hours with the German Classics,” by FREDERIC HENRY HEDGE (copyright by him in 1886). With permission of Messrs. LITTLE, BROWN, & CO., Publishers, Boston, Mass.]

Pre-eminent among the poets of the modern world stands Goethe, chief of his own generation, challenging comparison with the greatest of all time. His literary activity embraces a span of nigh seventy years in a life of more than fourscore, beginning, significantly enough, with a poem on “Christ’s Descent into Hell” (his earliest extant composition), and ending with Faust’s–that is, Man’s–ascent into heaven. The rank of a writer–his spiritual import to human kind–may be inferred from the number and worth of the writings of which he has furnished the topic and occasion. “When kings build,” says Schiller, speaking of Kant’s commentators, “the draymen have plenty to do.” Dante and Shakspeare have created whole libraries through the interest inspired by their writings. The Goethe-literature, so-called,–though scarce fifty years have elapsed since the poet’s death,–already numbers its hundreds of volumes.

I note in this man, first of all, as a literary phenomenon, the unexampled fact of supreme excellence in several quite distinct provinces of literary action. Had we only his minor poems, he would rank as the first of lyrists. Had he written only “Faust,” he would be the first of philosophic poets. Had he written only “Hermann and Dorothea,” the sweetest idyllist; if only the “Maerchen,” the subtlest of allegorists. Had he written never a verse, but only prose, he would hold the highest place among the prose-writers of Germany. And lastly, had he written only on scientific subjects, in that line also–in the field of science–he would be, as he is, an acknowledged leader.

Noticeable in him also is the combination of extraordinary genius with extraordinary fortune. A magnificent person, a sound physique, inherited wealth, high social position, official dignity, with eighty-three years of earthly existence, compose the framework of this illustrious life.

Behind the author, behind the poet, behind the world-renowned genius, a not unreasonable curiosity seeks the original man, the human individual, as he walked among men, his manner of being, his characteristics, as shown in the converse of life. In what soil grew the flowers and ripened the fruits which have been the delight and the aliment of nations? In proportion, of course, to the eminence attained by a writer,–in proportion to the worth of his works, to their hold on the world,–is the interest felt in his personality and behavior, in the incidents of his life. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the person is not always proportioned to the lustre of the name. Of the two great poets to whom the world’s unrepealable verdict has assigned the foremost place in their several kinds, we know in one case absolutely nothing, and next to nothing in the other. To the question, Who sung the wrath of Achilles and the wanderings of the much-versed Odysseus? tradition answers with a name to which no faintest shadow of a person corresponds. To the question, Who composed “Hamlet” and “Othello”? history answers with a person so indistinct that recent speculation has dared to question the agency of Shakspeare in those creations. What would not the old scholiasts have given for satisfactory proofs of the existence of a Homer identical with the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey? What would not the Shakspeare clubs give for one more authentic anecdote of the world’s great dramatist?

Of Goethe we know more–I mean of his externals–than of any other writer of equal note. This is due in part to his wide relations, official and other, with his contemporaries; to his large correspondence with people of note, of which the documents have been preserved by the parties addressed; to the interest felt in him by curious observers living in the day of his greatness. It is due in part also to the fact that, unlike the greatest of his predecessors, he flourished in an all-communicating, all-recording age; and partly it is due to autobiographical notices, embracing important portions of his history.

Two seemingly opposite factors–limiting and qualifying the one the other–determined the course and topics of his life. One was the aim which he proposed to himself as the governing principle and purpose of his being,–to perfect himself, to make the most of the nature which God had given him; the other was a constitutional tendency to come out of himself, to lose himself in objects, especially in natural objects, so that in the study of nature–to which he devoted a large part of his life–he seems not so much a scientific observer as a chosen confidant, to whom the discerning Mother revealed her secrets.

In no greatest genius are all its talents self-derived. Countless influences mould our intellect and mould our heart. One of these, and often one of the most potent, is heredity. Consciously or unconsciously, for good or for evil, physically and mentally, the father and mother are in the child, as indeed all his ancestors are in every man.

Of Goethe’s father we know only what the son himself has told us in his memoirs. A man of austere presence, from whom Goethe, as he tells us, inherited his bodily stature and his serious treatment of life,–

“Vom Vater hab ich die Statur,
Des Lebens ernstes fuehren.”

By profession a lawyer, but without practice, living in grim seclusion amid his books and collections; a man of solid acquirements and large culture, who had travelled in Italy and first awakened in Wolfgang the longing for that land; a man of ample means, inhabiting a stately mansion. For the rest, a stiff, narrow-minded, fussy pedant, with small toleration for any methods or aims but his own; who, while he appreciated the superior gifts of his son, was obstinately bent on guiding them in strict professional grooves, and teased him with the friction of opposing wills.

The opposite, in most respects, of this stately and pedantic worthy was the Frau Raethin, his youthful wife, young enough to have been his daughter,–a jocund, exuberant nature, a woman to be loved; one who blessed society with her presence, and possessed uncommon gifts of discourse. She was but eighteen when Wolfgang was born,–a companion to him and his sister Cornelia; one in whom they were sure to find sympathy and ready indulgence. Goethe was indebted to her, as he tells us, for his joyous spirit and his narrative talent,–

“Von Muetterchen die Frohnatur
Und Lust zu fabuliren.”

Outside of the poet’s household, the most important figure in the circle of his childish acquaintance was his mother’s father, from whom he had his name, Johann Wolfgang Textor, the _Schultheiss_, or chief magistrate, of the city. From him Goethe seems to have inherited the superstition of which some curious examples are recorded in his life. He shared with Napoleon and other remarkable men, says Von Mueller, the conceit that little mischances are prophetic of greater evils. On a journey to Baden-Baden with a friend, his carriage was upset and his companion slightly injured. He thought it a bad omen, and instead of proceeding to Baden-Baden chose another watering-place for his summer resort. If in his almanac there happened to be a blot on any date, he feared to undertake anything important on the day so marked. He had noted certain fatal days; one of these was the 22d of March. On that day he had lost a valued friend; on that day the theatre to which he had devoted so much time and labor was burned; and on that day, curiously enough, he died. He believed in oracles; and as Rousseau threw stones at a tree to learn whether or no he was to be saved (the hitting or not hitting the tree was to be the sign), so Goethe tossed a valuable pocket-knife into the river Lahn to ascertain whether he would succeed as a painter. If behind the bushes which bordered the stream, he saw the knife plunge, it should signify success; if not, he would take it as an omen of failure. Rousseau was careful, he tells us, to choose a stout tree, and to stand very near. Goethe, more honest with himself, adopted no such precaution; the plunge of the knife was not seen, and the painter’s career was abandoned.

Wordsworth’s saying, “the child is the father of the man,”–a saying which owes its vitality more to its form than its substance,–is not always verified, or its truth is not always apparent in the lives of distinguished men. I find not much in Goethe the child prophetic of Goethe the man. But the singer and the seeker, the two main tendencies of his being, are already apparent in early life. Of moral traits, the most conspicuous in the child is a power of self-control,–a moral heroism, which secured to him in after life a natural leadership unattainable by mere intellectual supremacy. An instance of this self-control is recorded among the anecdotes of his boyhood. At one of the lessons which he shared with other boys, the teacher failed to appear. The young people awaited his coming for a while, but toward the close of the hour most of them departed, leaving behind three who were especially hostile to Goethe. “These,” he says, “thought to torment, to mortify, and to drive me away. They left me a moment, and returned with rods taken from a broom which they had cut to pieces. I perceived their intention, and, supposing the expiration of the hour to be near, I immediately determined to make no resistance until the clock should strike. Unmercifully, thereupon, they began to scourge in the cruellest manner my legs and calves. I did not stir, but soon felt that I had miscalculated the time, and that such pain greatly lengthens the minutes.” When the hour expired, his superior activity enabled him to master all three, and to pin them to the ground.

In later years the same zeal of self-discipline which prompted the child to exercise himself in bearing pain, impelled the man to resist and overcome constitutional weaknesses by force of will. A student of architecture, he conquered a tendency to giddiness by standing on pinnacles and walking on narrow rafters over perilous abysses. In like manner he overcame the ghostly terrors instilled in the nursery, by midnight visits to churchyards and uncanny places.

To real peril, to fear of death, he seems to have had that native insensibility so notable always in men of genius, in whom the conviction of a higher destiny begets the feeling of a charmed life,–such as Plutarch records of the first Caesar in peril of shipwreck on the river Anio. In the French campaign (1793), in which Goethe accompanied the Duke of Weimar against the armies of the Republic, a sudden impulse of scientific curiosity prompted him, in spite of warnings and remonstrances, to experiment on what is called the “cannon-fever.” For this purpose he rode to a place in which he was exposed to a cross-fire of the two armies, and coolly watched the sensations experienced in that place of peril.

Command of himself, acquired by long and systematic discipline, gave him that command over others which he exercised in several memorable instances. Coming from a ball one night,–a young man fresh from the University,–he saw that a fire had broken out in the Judengasse, and that people were standing about helpless and confused without a leader; he immediately jumped from his carriage, and, full dressed as he was, in silk stockings and pumps, organized on the spot a fire-brigade, which averted a dangerous conflagration. On another occasion, voyaging in the Mediterranean, he quelled a mutiny on board an Italian ship, when captain and mates were powerless, and the vessel drifting on the rocks, by commanding sailors and passengers to fall on their knees and pray to the Virgin,–adopting the idiom of their religion as well as their speech, of which he was a master.

As a student, first at Leipsic, then at Strasburg, including the years from 1766 to 1771, he seems not to have been a very diligent attendant on the lectures in either university, and to have profited little by professional instruction. In compliance with the wishes of his father, who intended him for a jurist, he gave some time to the study of the law; but on the whole the principal gain of those years was derived from intercourse with distinguished intellectual men and women, whose acquaintance he cultivated, and the large opportunities of social life.

In Strasburg occurred the famous love-passage with Friederike Brion, which terminated so unhappily at the time, and so fortunately in the end, for both.

Goethe has been blamed for not marrying Friederike. His real blame consists in the heedlessness with which, in the beginning of their acquaintance, he surrendered himself to the charm of her presence, thereby engaging her affection without a thought of the consequences to either. Besides the disillusion, which showed him, when he came fairly to face the question, that he did not love her sufficiently to justify marriage, there were circumstances–material, economical–which made it practically impossible. Her suffering in the separation, great as it was,–so great indeed as to cause a dangerous attack of bodily disease,–could not outweigh the pangs which he endured in his penitent contemplation of the consequences of his folly.

The next five years were spent partly in Frankfort and partly in Wetzlar, partly in the forced exercise of his profession, but chiefly in literary labors and the use of the pencil, which for a time disputed with the pen the devotion of the poet-artist. They may be regarded as perhaps the most fruitful, certainly the most growing, years of his life. They gave birth to “Goetz von Berlichingen” and the “Sorrows of Werther,” to the first inception of “Faust,” and to many of his sweetest lyrics. It was during this period that he made the acquaintance of Charlotte Buff, the heroine of the “Sorrows of Werther,” from whom he finally tore himself away, leaving Wetzlar when he discovered that their growing interest in each other was endangering her relation with Kestner, her betrothed. In those years, also, he formed a matrimonial engagement with Elizabeth Schoenemann (Lili), the rupture of which, I must think, was a real misfortune for the poet. It came about by no fault of his. Her family had from the first opposed themselves to the match on the ground of social disparity. For even in mercantile Frankfort rank was strongly marked; and the Goethes, though respectable people, were beneath the Schoenemanns in the social scale. Goethe’s genius went for nothing with Madame Schoenemann; she wanted for her daughter an aristocratic husband, not a literary one,–one who had wealth in possession, and not merely, as Goethe had, in prospect. How far Lili was influenced by her mother’s and brother’s representations it is impossible to say; however, she showed herself capricious, was sometimes cold, or seemed so to him, while favoring the advances of others. Goethe was convinced that she did not entertain for him that devoted love without which he felt that their union could not be a happy one. They separated; but on her death-bed she confessed to a friend that all she was, intellectually and morally, she owed to him.

In 1775 our poet was invited by the young Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Karl August,–whose acquaintance he had made at Frankfort and at Mentz, his junior by two or three years,–to establish himself in civil service at the Grand-Ducal Court. The father, who had other views for his son, and was not much inclined to trust in princes, objected; many wondered, some blamed. Goethe himself appears to have wavered with painful indecision, and at last to have followed a mysterious impulse rather than a clear conviction or deliberate choice. His Heidelberg friend and hostess sought still to detain him, when the last express from Weimar drove up to the door. To her he replied in the words of his own Egmont:–

“Say no more! Goaded by invisible spirits, the sun-steeds of time run away with the light chariot of our destiny; there is nothing for it but to keep our courage, hold tight the reins, and guide the wheels now right, now left, avoiding a stone here, a fall there. Whither away? Who knows? Scarcely one remembers whence he came.”

It does not appear that he ever repented this most decisive step of his life-journey, nor does there appear to have been any reason why he should. A position, an office of some kind, he needs must have. Even now, the life of a writer by profession, with no function but that of literary composition, is seldom a prosperous one; in Goethe’s day, when literature was far less remunerative than it is in ours, it was seldom practicable. Unless he had chosen to be maintained by his father, some employment besides that of book-making was an imperative necessity. The alternative of that which was offered–the one his father would have chosen–was that of a plodding jurist in a country where forensic pleading was unknown, and where the lawyer’s profession offered no scope for any of the higher talents with which Goethe was endowed. On the whole, it was a happy chance that called him to the little capital of the little Grand-Duchy of Saxe-Weimar. If the State was one of petty dimensions (a kind of pocket-kingdom, like so many of the principalities of Germany), it nevertheless included some of the fairest localities, and one at least of the most memorable in Europe,–the Wartburg, where Luther translated the Bible, where Saint Elizabeth dispensed the blessings of her life, where the Minnesingers are said to have held their poetic tournament,–

“Heinrich von Ofterdingen,
Wolfram von Eschenbach.”

It included also the University of Jena, which at that time numbered some of the foremost men of Germany among its professors. It was a miniature State and a miniature town; one wonders that Goethe, who would have shone the foremost star in Berlin or Vienna, could content himself with so narrow a field. But Vienna and Berlin did not call him until it was too late,–until patronage was needless; and Weimar did. A miniature State,–but so much the greater his power and freedom and the opportunity of beneficent action.

No prince was ever more concerned to promote in every way the welfare of his subjects than Karl August; and in all his works undertaken for this purpose, Goethe was his foremost counsellor and aid. The most important were either suggested by him or executed under his direction. Had he never written a poem, or given to the world a single literary composition, he would still have led, as a Weimar official, a useful and beneficent life. But the knowledge of the world and of business, the social and other experience gained in this way, was precisely the training which he needed,–and which every poet needs,–for the broadening and deepening and perfection of his art. Friedrich von Mueller, in his valuable treatise of “Goethe as a Man of Affairs,” tells us how he traversed every portion of the country to learn what advantage might be taken of topographical peculiarities, what provision made for local necessities. “Everywhere–on hilltops crowned with primeval forests, in the depths of gorges and shafts–Nature met her favorite with friendly advances, and revealed to him many a desired secret.” Whatever was privately gained in this way was applied to public uses. He endeavored to infuse new life into the mining business, and to make himself familiar with all its technical requirements. For that end he revived his chemical experiments. New roads were built, hydraulic operations were conducted on more scientific principles, fertile meadows were won from the river Saale by systematic drainage, and in many a struggle with Nature an intelligently persistent will obtained the victory.

Nor was it with material obstacles only that the poet-minister had to contend. In the exercise of the powers intrusted to him he often encountered the fierce opposition of party interest and stubborn prejudice, and was sometimes driven to heroic and despotic measures in order to accomplish a desired result,–as when he foiled the machinations of the Jena professors in his determination to save the University library, and when, in spite of the opposition of the leading burghers, he demolished the city wall.

In 1786 Goethe was enabled to realize his cherished dream of a journey to Italy. There he spent a year and a half in the diligent study and admiring enjoyment of the treasures of art which made that country then, even more than now, the mark and desire of the civilized world. He came back an altered man. Intellectually and morally he had made in that brief space, under new influences, a prodigious stride. His sudden advance while they had remained stationary separated him from his contemporaries. The old associations of the Weimar world, which still revolved its little round, the much-enlightened traveller had outgrown. People thought him cold and reserved. It was only that the gay, impulsive youth had ripened into an earnest, sedate man. He found Germany jubilant over Schiller’s “Robbers” and other writings representative of the “storm-and-stress” school, which his maturity had left far behind, his own contributions to which he had come to hate. Schiller, who first made his acquaintance at this time, writes to Koerner:–

“I doubt that we shall ever become intimate. Much that to me is still of great interest he has already outlived. He is so far beyond me, not so much in years as in experience and culture, that we can never come together in one course.”

How greatly Schiller erred in the supposition that they never could become intimate, how close the intimacy which grew up between them, what harmony of sentiment, how friendly and mutually helpful their co-operation, is sufficiently notorious.

But such was the first aspect which Goethe presented to strangers at this period of his life; he rather repelled than attracted, until nearer acquaintance learned rightly to interpret the man, and intellectual or moral affinity bridged the chasm which seemed to divide him from his kind. In part, too, the distance and reserve of which people complained was a necessary measure of self-defence against the disturbing importunities of social life. “From Rome,” says Friedrich von Mueller, “from the midst of the richest and grandest life, dates the stern maxim of ‘Renunciation’ which governed his subsequent being and doing, and which furnished his only guarantee of mental equipoise and peace.”

His literary works hitherto had been spasmodic and lawless effusions, the escapes of a gushing, turbulent youth. In Rome he had learned the sacred significance of art. The consciousness of his true vocation had been awakened in him; and to that, on the eve of his fortieth year, he thenceforth solemnly devoted the remainder of his life. He obtained release from the more onerous of his official engagements, retaining only such functions as accorded with his proper calling as a man of letters and of science. He renounced his daily intercourse with Frau von Stein, though still retaining and manifesting his unabated friendship for the woman to whom in former years he had devoted so large a portion of his time, and employed himself in giving forth those immortal words which have settled forever his place among the stars of first magnitude in the intellectual world.

Noticeable and often noted was the charm and (when arrived to maturity) the grand effect of his personal presence. Physical beauty is not the stated accompaniment, nor even the presumable adjunct, of intellectual greatness. In Goethe, as perhaps in no other, the two were combined. A wondrous presence!–on this point the voices are one and the witnesses many. “Goethe was with us,” so writes Heinse to one of his friends; “a beautiful youth of twenty-five, full of genius and force from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot; a heart full of feeling, a spirit full of fire, who with eagle wings _ruit immensus ore profundo_.” Jacobi writes: “The more I think of it, the more impossible it seems to me to communicate to any one who has not seen Goethe any conception of this extraordinary creature of God.” Lavater says: “Unspeakably sweet, an indescribable appearance, the most terrible and lovable of men.” Hufeland, the chief medical celebrity of Germany, describes his appearance in early manhood: “Never shall I forget the impression which he made as ‘Orestes’ in Greek costume. You thought you beheld an Apollo. Never was seen in any man such union of physical and spiritual perfection and beauty as at that time in Goethe.” More remarkable still is the testimony of Wieland, who had reason to be offended, having been before their acquaintance the subject of Goethe’s sharp satire. But immediately at their first meeting, sitting at table “by the side,” he says, “of this glorious youth, I was radically cured of all my vexation…. Since this morning,” he wrote to Jacobi, “my soul is as full of Goethe as a dewdrop is of the morning sun.” And to Zimmermann: “He is in every respect the greatest, best, most splendid human being that ever God created.” Goethe was then twenty-six. Henry Crabbe Robinson, who saw him at the age of fifty-two, reports him one of the most “oppressively handsome” men he had ever seen, and speaks particularly as all who have described him speak, of his wonderfully brilliant eyes. Those eyes, we are told, had lost nothing of their lustre, nor his head its natural covering, at the age of eighty.

Among the heroic qualities notable in Goethe, I reckon his faithful and unflagging industry. Here was a man who took pains with himself,–_liess sich’s sauer werden,_–and made the most of himself. He speaks of wasting, while a student in Leipsic, “the beautiful time;” and certainly neither at Leipsic nor afterward at Strasburg did he toil as his Wagner in “Faust” would have done. But he was always learning. In the lecture-room or out of it, with pen and books or gay companions, he was taking in, to give forth again in dramatic or philosophic form the world of his experience.

A frolicsome youth may leave something to regret in the way of time misspent; but Goethe the man was no dawdler, no easy-going Epicurean. On the whole, he made the most of himself, and stands before the world a notable instance of a complete life. He would do the work which was given him to do. He would not die till the second part of “Faust” was brought to its predetermined close. By sheer force of will he lived till that work was done. Smitten at fourscore by the death of his son, and by deaths all around, he kept to his task. “The idea of duty alone sustains me; the spirit is willing, the flesh must.” When “Faust” was finished, the strain relaxed. “My remaining days,” he said, “I may consider a free gift; it matters little what I do now, or whether I do anything.” And six months later he died.

A complete life! A life of strenuous toil! At home and abroad,–in Italy and Sicily, at Ilmenau and Carlsbad, as in his study at Weimar,–with eye or pen or speech, he was always at work. A man of rigid habits; no lolling or lounging. “He showed me,” says Eckermann, “an elegant easy-chair which he had bought to-day at auction. ‘But,’ said he, ‘I shall never or rarely use it; all indolent habits are against my nature. You see in my chamber no sofa; I sit always in my old wooden chair, and never, till a few weeks ago, have permitted even a leaning place for my head to be added. If surrounded by tasteful furniture, my thoughts are arrested; I am placed in an agreeable but passive state. Unless we are accustomed to them from early youth, splendid chambers and elegant furniture had better be left to people without thoughts.'” This in his eighty-second year!

A widely diffused prejudice regarding the personal character of Goethe refuses to credit him with any moral worth accordant with his bodily and mental gifts. It figures him a libertine,–heartless, loveless, bad. I do not envy the mental condition of those who can rest in the belief that a really great poet can be a bad man. Be assured that the fruits of genius have never grown, and will never grow, in such a soil. Of all great poets Byron might seem at first glance to constitute an exception to this–I venture to call it–law of Nature. Yet hear what Walter Scott, a sufficient judge, said of Byron:–

“The errors of Lord Byron arose neither from depravity of heart–for nature had not committed the anomaly of uniting to such extraordinary talents an imperfect moral sense–nor from feelings dead to the admiration of virtue. No man had ever a kinder heart for sympathy, or a more open hand for the relief of distress; and no mind was ever more formed for enthusiastic admiration of noble actions.”

The case of Goethe requires no appeal to general principles. It only requires that the charges against him be fairly investigated; that he be tried by documentary evidence, and by the testimony of competent witnesses. The mistake is made of confusing breaches of conventional decorum with essential depravity.

That Goethe was faulty in many ways may be freely conceded. But surely there is a wide difference between not being faultless and being definitely bad. To call a man bad is to say that the evil in him preponderates over the good. In the case of Goethe the balance was greatly the other way. It has been said that he abused the confidence reposed in him by women; that he encouraged affection which he did not reciprocate for artistic purposes. The charge is utterly groundless; and in the case of Bettine has been refuted by irrefragable proof. To say that he was wanting in love, heartless, cold, is ridiculously false. Yet the charge is constantly reiterated in the face of facts,–reiterated with undoubting assurance and a certain complacency which seems to say, “Thank God! we are not as this man was.” There is a satisfaction which some people feel in _spotting_ their man,–Burns drank; Coleridge took opium; Byron was a rake; Goethe was cold: by these marks we know them. The poet found it necessary, as I have said, in later years, under social pressure, for the sake of the work which was given him to do, to fortify himself with a mail of reserve. And this, indeed, contrasted strangely with his former _abandon_, and with the customary gush of German sentimentality. It was common then for Germans who had known each other by report, and were mutually attracted, when first they met, to fall on each other’s necks and kiss and weep. Goethe, as a young man, had indulged such fervors; but in old age he had lost this effusiveness, or saw fit to restrain himself outwardly, while his kindly nature still glowed with its pristine fires. He wrote to Frau von Stein, “I may truly say that my innermost condition does not correspond to my outward behavior.” Hence the charge of coldness. Say that Mount Aetna is cold: do we not see the snow on its sides?

But he was unpatriotic; he occupied himself with poetry, and did not cry out while his country was in the death-throes–so it seemed–of the struggle with France! But what should he have done? What _could_ he have done? What would his single arm or declamation have availed? No man more than Goethe longed for the rehabilitation of Germany. In his own way he wrought for that end; he could work effectually in no other. That enigmatical composition,–the “Maerchen,”–according to the latest interpretation, indicates how, in Goethe’s view, that end was to be accomplished. To one who considers the relation of ideas to events, it will not seem extravagant when I say that to Goethe, more than to any one individual, Germany is indebted for her emancipation, independence, and present political regeneration.[6]

[Footnote 6: (The following interpretation of the “Maerchen” is condensed from a later portion of this essay, and used here as a foot-note for the light it throws upon Goethe’s political career.)

In the summer of 1795 Goethe composed for Schiller’s new magazine, “Die Horen,” a prose poem known in German literature as _Das Maerchen,_–” _The_ Tale;” as if it were the only one, or the one which more than another deserves that appellation….

Goethe gave this essay to the public as a riddle which would probably be unintelligible at the time, but which might perhaps find an interpreter after many days, when the hints contained in it should be verified. Since its first appearance commentators have exercised their ingenuity upon it, perceiving it to be allegorical, but until recently without success…. I follow Dr. Herman’s Baumgart’s lead in the exposition which I now offer.

“The Tale” is a prophetic vision of the destinies of Germany,–an allegorical foreshowing at the close of the eighteenth century of what Germany was yet to become, and has in great part already become. A position is predicted for her like that which she occupied from the time of Charles the Great to the time of Charles V.,–a period during which the Holy Roman Empire of Germany was the leading secular power in Western Europe. That time had gone by. Since the middle of the sixteenth century Germany had declined, and at the date of this writing (1795) had nearly reached her darkest day. Disintegrated, torn by conflicting interests, pecked by petty rival princes, despairing of her own future, it seemed impossible that she should ever again become a power among the nations. Goethe felt this; he felt it as profoundly as any German of his day … and he characteristically went into himself and studied the situation. The result was this wonderful composition,–“Das Maerchen.” He perceived that Germany must die to be born again. She did die, and is born again. He had the sagacity to foresee the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire,–an event which took place eleven years later, in 1806. The Empire is figured by the composite statue of the fourth King in the subterranean Temple, which crumbles to pieces when that Temple, representing Germany’s past, emerges and stands above ground by the River. The resurrection of the Temple and its stand by the River is the _denouement_ of the Tale. And that signifies, allegorically, the rehabilitation of Germany.]

It is true, his writings contain no declamations against tyrants, and no tirades in favor of liberty. He believed that oppression existed only through ignorance and blindness, and these he was all his life long seeking to remove. He believed that true liberty is attainable only through mental illumination, and that he was all his life long seeking to promote.

He was no agitator, no revolutionist; he had no faith in violent measures. Human welfare, he judged, is not to be advanced in that way; is less dependent on forms of polity than on the life within. But if the test of patriotism is the service rendered to one’s country, who more patriotic than he? Lucky for us and the world that he persisted to serve her in his own way, and not as the agitators claimed that he should. It was clear to him then, and must be clear to us now, that he could not have been what they demanded, and at the same time have given to his country and the world what he did.

As a courtier and favorite of Fortune, it was inevitable that Goethe should have enemies. They have done what they could to blacken his name; and to this day the shadow they have cast upon it in part remains. But of this be sure, that no selfish, loveless egoist could have had and retained such friends. The man whom the saintly Fraulein von Klettenberg chose for her friend, whom clear-sighted, stern-judging Herder declared that he loved as he did his own soul; the man whose thoughtful kindness is celebrated by Herder’s incomparable wife, whom Karl August and the Duchess Luise cherished as a brother; the man whom children everywhere welcomed as their ready playfellow and sure ally, of whom pious Jung Stilling lamented that admirers of Goethe’s genius knew so little of the goodness of his heart,–can this have been a bad man, heartless, cold?


I have said that to Goethe, above all writers, belongs the distinction of having excelled, not experimented merely,–that, others have also done,–but excelled in many distinct kinds. To the lyrist he added the dramatist, to the dramatist the novelist, to the novelist the mystic seer, and to all these the naturalist and scientific discoverer. The history of literature exhibits no other instance in which a great poet has supplemented his proper orbit with so wide an epicyle.

In poetry, as in science, the ground of his activity was a passionate love of Nature, which dates from his boyhood. At the age of fifteen, recovering from a sickness caused by disappointment in a boyish affair of the heart, he betook himself with his sketch-book to the woods. “In the farthest depth of the forest,” he says, “I sought out a solemn spot, where ancient oaks and beeches formed a shady retreat. A slight declivity of the soil made the merit of the ancient boles more conspicuous. This space was inclosed by a thicket of bushes, between which peeped moss-covered rocks, mighty and venerable, affording a rapid fall to an affluent brook.”

The sketches made of these objects at that early age could have had no artistic value, although the methodical father was careful to mount and preserve them. But what the pencil, had it been the pencil of the greatest master, could never glean from scenes like these, what art could never grasp, what words can never formulate, the heart of the boy then imbibed, assimilated, resolved in his innermost being. There awoke in him then those mysterious feelings, those unutterable yearnings, that pensive joy in the contemplation of Nature, which leavened all his subsequent life, and the influence of which is so perceptible in his poetry, especially in his lyrics….

The first literary venture by which Goethe became widely known was “Goetz von Berlichingen,” a dramatic picture of the sixteenth century, in which the principal figure is a predatory noble of that name. A dramatic picture, but not in any true sense a play, it owed its popularity at the time partly to the truth of its portraitures, partly to its choice of a native subject and the truly German feeling which pervades it. It was a new departure in German literature, and perplexed the critics as much as it delighted the general public. It anticipated by a quarter of a century what is technically called the Romantic School.

“Goetz von Berlichingen” was soon followed by the “Sorrows of Werther,”–one of those books which, on their first appearance have taken the world by storm, and of which Mrs. Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is the latest example. It is a curious circumstance that a great poet should have won his first laurels by prose composition. Sir Walter Scott eclipsed the splendor of his poems by the popularity of the Waverley novels. Goethe eclipsed the world-wide popularity of his “Werther” by the splendor of his poems.

Of one who was great in so many kinds, it may seem difficult to decide in what department he most excelled. Without undertaking to measure and compare what is incommensurable, I hold that Goethe’s genius is essentially lyrical. Whatever else may be claimed for him, he is, first of all, and chiefly, a singer. Deepest in his nature, the most innate of all his faculties, was the faculty of song, of rhythmical utterance. The first to manifest itself in childhood, it was still active at the age of fourscore. The lyrical portions of the second part of “Faust,” some of which were written a short time before his death, are as spirited, the versification as easy, the rhythm as perfect, as the songs of his youth.

As a lyrist he is unsurpassed, I venture to say unequalled, if we take into view the whole wide range of his performance in this kind,–from the ballads, the best-known of his smaller poems, and those light fugitive pieces, those bursts of song which came to him without effort, and with such a rush that in order to arrest and preserve them he seized, as he tells us, the first scrap of paper that came to hand and wrote upon it diagonally, if it happened so to lie on his table, lest, through the delay of selecting and placing, the inspiration should be checked and the poem evaporate,–from these to such stately compositions as the “Zueignung,” or dedication of his poems, the “Weltseele” and the “Orphic Sayings,”–in short, from poetry that writes itself, that springs spontaneously in the mind, to poetry that is written with elaborate art. There is this distinction, and it is one of the most marked in lyric verse. Compare in English poetry, by way of illustration, the snatches of song in Shakspeare’s plays with Shakspeare’s sonnets; compare Burns with Gray; compare Jean Ingelow with Browning.

Goethe’s ballads have an undying popularity; they have been translated, and most of them are familiar to English readers….

In the Elegies written after his return from Italy, the author figures as a classic poet inspired by the Latin Muse. The choicest of these elegies–the “Alexis and Dora”–is not so much an imitation of the ancients as it is the manifestation of a side of the poet’s nature which he had in common with the ancients. He wrote as a Greek or Roman might write, because he felt his subject as a Greek or Roman might feel it.

“Hermann und Dorothea,” which Schiller pronounced the acme not only of Goethean but of all modern art, was written professedly as an attempt in the Homeric[7] style, motived by Wolf’s “Prolegomena” and Voss’s “Luise.” It is Homeric only in its circumstantiality, in the repetition of the same epithets applied to the same persons, and in the Greek realism of Goethe’s nature. The theme is very un-Homeric; it is thoroughly modern and German,–
“Germans themselves I present, to the humbler dwelling I lead you, Where with Nature as guide man is natural still.” [8]

[Footnote 7: “Doch Homeride zu sein, auch noch als letzter, ist schoen.”]

[Footnote 8: From the Elegy entitled “Hermann und Dorothea.”]

This exquisite poem has been translated into English hexameters with great fidelity by Miss Ellen Frothingham.

“Iphigenie auf Tauris” handles a Greek theme, exhibits Greek characters, and was hailed on its first appearance as a genuine echo of the Greek drama. Mr. Lewes denies it that character; and certainly it is not Greek, but Christian, in sentiment. It differs from the extant drama of Euripides, who treats the same subject, in the Christian feeling which determines its _denouement_….

A large portion of Goethe’s productions have taken the dramatic form; yet he cannot be said, theatrically speaking, to have been, like Schiller, a successful dramatist. His plays, with the exception of “Egmont” and the First Part of “Faust,” have not commanded the stage; they form no part, I believe, of the stock of any German theatre. The characterizations are striking, but the positions are not dramatic. Single scenes in some of them are exceptions,–like that in “Egmont,” where Clara endeavors to rouse her fellow-citizens to the rescue of the Count, while Brackenburg seeks to restrain her, and several of the scenes in the First Part of “Faust.” But, on the whole, the interest of Goethe’s dramas is psychological rather than scenic. Especially is this the case with “Tasso,” one of the author’s noblest works, where the characters are not so much actors as metaphysical portraitures. Schiller, in his plays, had always the stage in view. Goethe, on the contrary, wrote for readers, or cultivated, reflective hearers, not spectators…..

When I say, then, that Goethe, compared with Schiller, failed of dramatic success, I mean that his talent did not lie in the line of plays adapted to the stage as it is; or if the talent was not wanting, his taste did not incline to such performance. He was no playwright.

But there is another and higher sense of the word _dramatic_, where Goethe is supreme,–the sense in which Dante’s great poem is called _Commedia_, a play. There is a drama whose scope is beyond the compass of any earthly stage,–a drama not for theatre-goers, to be seen on the boards, but for intellectual contemplation of men and angels. Such a drama is “Faust,” of which I shall speak hereafter.

Of Goethe’s prose works,–I mean works of prose fiction,–the most considerable are two philosophical novels, “Wilhelm Meister” and the “Elective Affinities.”

In the first of these the various and complex motives which have shaped the composition may be comprehended in the one word _education_,–the education of life for the business of life. The main thread of the narrative traces through a labyrinth of loosely connected scenes and events the growth of the hero’s character,–a progressive training by various influences, passional, intellectual, social, moral, and religious. These are represented by the _personnel_ of the story. In accordance with this design, the hero himself, if so he may be called, has no pronounced traits, is more negative than positive, but is brought into contact with many very positive characters. His life is the stage on which these characters perform. A ground is thus provided for the numerous portraits of which the author’s large experience furnished the originals, and for lessons of practical wisdom derived from his close observation of men and things and his lifelong reflection thereon.

“Wilhelm Meister,” if not the most artistic, is the most instructive, and in that view, next to “Faust,” the most important, of Goethe’s works. In it he has embodied his philosophy of life,–a philosophy far enough removed from the epicurean views which ignorance has ascribed to him,–a philosophy which is best described by the term _ascetic_. Its keynote is Renunciation. “With renunciation begins the true life,” was the author’s favorite maxim; and the second part of “Wilhelm Meister”–the _Wanderjahre_–bears the collateral title _Die Entsagenden_; that is, the “Renouncing” or the “Self-denying.” The characters that figure in this second part–most of whom have had their training in the first–form a society whose principle of union is self-renunciation and a life of beneficent activity….

The most fascinating character in “Wilhelm Meister”–the wonder and delight of the reader–is Mignon, the child-woman,–a pure creation of Goethe’s genius, without a prototype in literature. Readers of Scott will remember Fenella, the elfish maiden in “Peveril of the Peak.” Scott says in his Preface to that novel: “The character of Fenella, which from its peculiarity made a favorable impression on the public, was far from being original. The fine sketch of Mignon in Wilhelm Meister’s _Lehrjahre_–a celebrated work from the pen of Goethe–gave the idea of such a being. But the copy will be found to be greatly different from my great prototype; nor can I be accused of borrowing anything save the general idea.”

As I remember Fenella, the resemblance to Mignon is merely superficial. A certain weirdness is all they have in common. The intensity of the inner life, the unspeakable longing, the cry of the unsatisfied heart, the devout aspiration, the presentiment of the heavenly life which characterize Mignon are peculiar to her; they constitute her individuality. Wilhelm has found her a kidnapped child attached to a strolling circus company, and has rescued her from the cruel hands of the manager. Thenceforth she clings to him with a passionate devotion, in which gratitude for her deliverance, filial affection, and the love of a maiden for her hero are strangely blended. Afflicted with a disease of the heart, she is subject to terrible convulsions, which increase the tenderness of her protector for the doomed child. After one of these attacks, in which she had been suffering frightful pain, we read:–

“He held her fast. She wept; and no tongue can express the force of those tears. Her long hair had become unfastened and hung loose over her shoulders. Her whole being seemed to be melting away…. At last she raised herself up. A mild cheerfulness gleamed from her face. ‘My father!’ she cried, ‘you will not leave me! You will be my father! I will be your child.’ Softly, before the door, a harp began to sound. The old Harper was bringing his heartiest songs as an evening sacrifice to his friend.”

Then bursts on the reader that world-famed song, in which the soul of Mignon, with its unconquerable yearnings, is forever embalmed,–“Kennst du das Land”:–

“Know’st thou the land that bears the citron’s bloom? The golden orange glows ‘mid verdant gloom, A gentle wind from heaven’s deep azure blows, The myrtle low, and high the laurel grows,– Know’st thou the land?[9]
Oh, there! oh, there! Would I with thee, my best beloved, repair.” …

[Footnote 9: Literally, “Know’st thou it well?” But the word “well,” in this case, does not answer to the German _wohl_.]

The “Elective Affinities” has been strangely misinterpreted as having an immoral tendency, as encouraging conjugal infidelity, and approving “free love.” That any one who has read the work with attention to the end could so misjudge it seems incredible. Precisely the reverse of this, its aim is to enforce the sanctity of the nuptial bond by showing the tragic consequences resulting from its violation, though only in thought and feeling….

Here, a word concerning one merit of Goethe which seems to me not to have been sufficiently appreciated by even his admirers,–his loving skill in the delineation of female character; the commanding place he assigns to woman in his writings; his full recognition of the importance of feminine influence in human destiny. The prophetic utterance, which forms the conclusion of “Faust,”–“The ever womanly draws us on,”–is the summing up of Goethe’s own experience of life. Few men had ever such wide opportunities of acquaintance with women. If, on the one hand, his loves had revealed to him the passional side of feminine nature, he had enjoyed, on the other, the friendship of some of the purest and noblest of womankind. Conspicuous among these are Fraeulein von Klettenberg and the Duchess Luise, whom no one, says Lewes, ever speaks of but in terms of veneration. No poet but Shakspeare, and scarcely Shakspeare, has set before the world so rich a gallery of female portraits. They range from the lowest to the highest,–from the wanton to the saint; they are drawn in firm lines, and limned in imperishable colors, … each bearing the stamp of her own individuality, and each confessing a master’s hand. These may be considered as representing different phases of the poet’s experience,–different _stadia_ in his view of life. “The ever womanly draws us on.” So Goethe, of all men most susceptible of feminine influence, was led by it from weakness to strength, from dissipation to concentration, from doubt to clearness, from tumult to repose, from the earthly to the heavenly.


Goethe appears to have derived his knowledge of the Faust legend partly from the work of Widmann, published in 1599,[10] partly from another more modern in its form, which appeared in 1728, and partly from the puppet plays exhibited in Frankfort and other cities of Germany, of which that legend was then a favorite theme. He was not the only writer of that day who made use of it. Some thirty of his contemporaries had produced their “Fausts” during the interval which elapsed between the inception and publication of his great work. Oblivion overtook them all, with the exception of Lessing’s, of which a few fragments are left; the manuscript of the complete work was unaccountably lost on its way to the publisher, between Dresden and Leipsic.

[Footnote 10: The earlier work of Spiess (1588) was translated into English and furnished Marlowe with the subject-matter of his “Dr. Faustus.”]

The composition of “Faust,” as we learn from Goethe’s biography, proceeded spasmodically, with many and long interruptions between the inception and conclusion. Projected in 1769 at the age of twenty, it was not completed till the year 1831, at the age of eighty-two….

But the effect of the long arrest, which after Goethe’s removal to Weimar delayed the completion of the “Faust,” is most apparent in the wide gulf which separates, as to character and style, the Second Part from the First. So great, indeed, is the distance between the two that, without external historical proofs of identity, it would seem from internal evidence altogether improbable, in spite of the slender thread of the fable which connects them, that both poems were the work of one and the same author. And really the author was not the same. The change which had come over Goethe on his return from Italy had gone down to the very springs of his intellectual life. The fervor and the rush, the sparkle and foam of his early productions, had been replaced by the stately calm and the luminous breadth of view that is born of experience. The torrent of the mountains had become the river of the plain; romantic impetuosity had changed to classic repose. He could still, by occasional efforts of the will, cast himself back into the old moods, resume the old thread, and so complete the first “Faust.” But we may confidently assert that he could not, after the age of forty, have originated the poem, any more than before his Italian tour he could have written the second “Faust,” purporting to be a continuation of the first. The difference in spirit and style is enormous.

As to the question which of the two is the greater production, it is like asking which is the greater, Dante’s “Commedia” or Shakspeare’s “Macbeth”? They are incommensurable. As to which is the more generally interesting, no question can arise. There are thousands who enjoy and admire the First Part to one who even reads the Second. The interest of the former is poetic and thoroughly human; the interest of the other is partly poetic, but mostly philosophic and scientific….

The symbolical character of “Faust” is assumed by all the critics, and in part confessed by the author himself. Besides the general symbolism pervading and motiving the whole,–a symbolism of human destiny,–and here and there a shadowing forth of the poet’s private experience, there are special allusions–local, personal, enigmatic conceits–which have furnished topics of learned discussion and taxed the ingenuity of numerous commentators. We need not trouble ourselves with these subtleties. But little exegesis is needed for a right comprehension of the true and substantial import of the work.

The key to the plot is given in the Prologue in Heaven. The devil, in the character of Mephistopheles, asks permission to tempt Faust; he boasts his ability to get entire possession of his soul and drag him down to hell. The Lord grants the permission, and prophesies the failure of the attempt:–

“Be it allowed! Draw this spirit from its Source if you can lay hold of him; bear him with you on your downward path, and stand ashamed when you are forced to confess that a good man in his dark strivings has a consciousness of the right way.”

Here we have a hint of the author’s design. He does not intend that the devil shall succeed; he does not mean to adopt the conclusion of the legend and send Faust to hell. He had the penetration to see, and he meant to show, that the notion implied in the old popular superstition of selling one’s soul to the devil–the notion that evil can obtain the entire and final possession of the soul–is a fallacy; that the soul is not man’s to dispose of, and cannot be so traded away. We are the soul’s, not the soul ours. Evil is self-limited; the good in man must finally prevail. So long as he strives he is not lost; Heaven will come to the aid of his better nature. This is the doctrine, the philosophy, of “Faust.” In the First Part, stung by disappointment in his search of knowledge, by failure to lay hold of the superhuman, and urged on by his baser propensities personified in Mephistopheles, Faust abandons himself to sensual pleasure,–seduces innocence, burdens his soul with heavy guilt, and seems to be entirely given over to evil. This Part ends with Mephistopheles’ imperious call,–“Her zu mir,”–as if secure of his victim. Before the appearance of the Second Part, the reader was at liberty to accept that conclusion. But in the Second Part Faust gradually wakes from the intoxication of passion, outgrows the dominion of appetite, plans great and useful works, whereby Mephistopheles loses more and more his hold of him; and after his death is baffled in his attempt to appropriate Faust’s immortal part, to which the heavenly Powers assert their right….

The character of Margaret is unique; its duplicate is not to be found in all the picture galleries of fiction. Shakspeare, in the wide range of his feminine _personnel_, has no portrait like this. A girl of low birth and vulgar circumstance, imbued with the ideas and habits of her class, speaking the language of that class from which she never for a moment deviates into finer phrase, takes on, through the magic handling of the poet, an ideal beauty. Externally common and prosaic in all her ways, she is yet thoroughly poetic, transfigured in our conception by her perfect love. To that love, unreasoning, unsuspecting,–to the excess of that which in itself is no fault, but beautiful and good,–her fall and ruin are due. Her story is the tragedy of her sex in all time. As Schlegel said of the “Prometheus Bound,”–“It is not a single tragedy, but tragedy itself.” …

[The First Part ends with the prison scene, where poor Margaret, escaping by death, ascends to heaven, while Mephistopheles, shouting an imperious “Hither to me!” disappears with Faust.] The reader is allowed to suppose–and most readers did suppose–that the author meant it should be inferred that the devil had secured his victim, and that Faust, according to the legend, had paid the forfeit of his soul to the powers of hell.

But Faust reappears in a new poem,–the Second Part. He is there introduced sleeping, as if burying in torpor the lusts and crimes and sorrows of his past career. Pitying spirits are about him, to heal his woes and promote his return to a better life….

[At the end of his hundred years of earthly life,] Mephistopheles … fails to secure the immortal part of Faust, which the angels appropriate and bear aloft:

“This member of the upper spheres
We rescue from the devil;
For whoso strives and perseveres May be redeemed from evil.”

The last two lines may be supposed to contain the author’s justification of Mephistopheles’ defeat and Faust’s salvation. Though a man surrender himself to evil, if there is that in him which evil cannot satisfy, an impulse by which he outgrows the gratifications of vice, extends his horizon and lifts his desires, pursues an onward course until he learns to place his aims outside of himself, and to seek satisfaction in works of public utility,–he is beyond the power of Satan: he may be redeemed from evil.

One could wish, indeed, that more decisive marks of moral development had been exhibited in the latter stages of Faust’s career. But here comes in the Christian doctrine of Grace, which Goethe applies to the problem of man’s destiny. Faust is represented as saved by no merit of his own, but by the interest which Heaven has in every soul in which there is the possibility of a heavenly life.

And so the new-born ascending spirit is committed by the Mater gloriosa to the tutelage of Gretchen [Margaret],–_una poenitentium,_–now purified from all the stains of her earthly life, to whom is given the injunction:–

“Lift thyself up to higher spheres! When he divines, he’ll follow thee.”

And the Mystic Choir chants the epilogue which embodies the moral of the play:–

“All that is perishing
Types the ideal;
Dream of our cherishing
Thus becomes real.
Here it is done;
The ever womanly
Draweth us on.”





Of Tennyson what can one write freshly to-day that will not seem but an echo of what has been said or written of England’s noble singer who, on the death of Wordsworth, now over half a century ago, assumed the official bays of the English laureateship? Personal homage, of course, one can pay to the illustrious name, so dear to the heart of the English-speaking race; but how freshly or vitally can any writer now speak of that magnificent body of his verse which is the glory of his age, of the nobility and knightly virtues of its author’s character, of the splendor of his genius, or of the breadth of intellectual and spiritual interests which was so signally manifested in all that Tennyson thought and wrote? Among the “Beacon Lights” in the present series of volumes the Laureate of the age has not hitherto been included, and to fill the gap the writer of this sketch has ventured, not, of course, to say all that might be said of the great poet, but modestly to deal with the man and his art, so that neither his era nor his work shall go unchronicled or fail of some recognition, however inadequate, in these pages.

Tennyson’s supreme excellence, it is admitted, lies not so much in his themes as in his transcendent art. It is this that has given him his hold upon a cultured age and won for him immortality. His work is the perfection of literary form, and, in his lyrical pieces especially, his melody is exquisite. Not less masterly is his power of construction, while his sensibility to beauty is phenomenal. His secluded life brought him close to nature’s heart and made him familiar with her every voice and mood. In interpreting these, much of the charm lies in the fidelity of his descriptions and in the surpassing beauty of the word-painting. In the Shakespearian sense he lacked the dramatic faculty, and he had but slender gifts of invention and creation. But broad, if not always strong, was his intelligence, and keen his interest in the problems of the time. Though living apart from the world, he was yet of it; and in many of his poems may be traced not only the doings, but the thought and tendencies, of his age. His Christianity, though undogmatic, was real and pervasive, and his love for nature was a devotion. In national affairs, as befitted the official singer of his country (witness his fine ‘Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington’), he showed himself the historic as well as the modern Englishman, and great was his reverence for law and freedom. Attractive also, if at times somewhat commonplace, is the quiet domestic sphere which Tennyson has hallowed in the many modern idylls which depict the joys and sorrows of humble life. No trait in the poet’s many-sided character is more beautiful than the sympathy he has manifested in these poems with the world’s toilers; while nothing could well be more touching than the pathos with which he invests their simple annals.

Typical of the Victorian age in which he lived, Tennyson is also representative of its highest thought and culture. This is seen not only in the thought of his verse, but in its splendid forms, and especially in the technical equipment of the poet. In his dialogues there is much movement and action, and he had consummate skill in the handling of metres. Few poets have approached him in the successful writing of blank verse, which has a delightful cadence as well as calm strength. Above all his gifts, he was an artist in words, his ear being most sensitively attuned and his taste pure and refined for the delicate artistry of the poet’s work. In this respect he is a matchless literary workman. Besides the music of his verse, his thought is ever high, and in his serious moods consecrated to noble and reverent purposes. In the midst of the negations and convulsive movements of his day his spirit is always serene, and his thought, while at times dreamily melancholy, is conserving and full of faith’s highest assurance. His sympathy with his fellow-man was keen and wide-souled; and though he stood aloof from the conflict and struggle of his day, he was far from indifferent to its movements, and with high purpose strove if not to direct at least to reflect them. This was specially characteristic of the man, and in the conflict with doubt no poet has more keenly interpreted the mental struggles of the thoughtful soul and the deep underlying spirit of his time, or more beneficently given the age an assured ground of faith while conserving its highest and dearest hopes. Happily, too, unlike many poets, his own character was lofty and blameless, and hence his message comes with more consistency, as well as with a higher inspiration and power. Nor is the message the less impressive for the note of honest doubt which finds utterance in many a poem, or for the intimation of a creed that is at once liberal and conservative. With the evidences before the reader that the poet himself had had his own soul-wrestlings and periods of mental conflict, his counsellings of courage and faith are all the more effective, as they are in unison with his belief in the upward progress of the race, and his unshaken trust in a higher Power.

Lacking in intensity of passion and dramatic force, Tennyson here again is but typical of his era, to him one of reposeful content and calm, reasoning progress. Of permanent, lasting value much of his verse undoubtedly is, but not all of it will escape the indifference of posterity or the measuring-rod and censure, it may be, of the future critic. He had not the stirring strains or the careless rapture of other and earlier poets of the motherland,–his characteristic is more contemplative and brooding,–yet his range is unusually comprehensive and his power varied and sustained, as well as marked by the highest qualities of rhythmic beauty. In the idyll, where he specially shines, we have much that is lovely and limpid, with abounding instances of that felicitous word-painting for which he was noted. This is especially seen in the simple pastoral idylls, such as ‘Dora,’ ‘The May Queen,’ and ‘The Miller’s Daughter,’ or in those tender lyrics such as ‘Mariana,’ ‘Sir Galahad,’ ‘The Dying Swan,’ and ‘The Talking Oak.’ In the ballads and songs, how felicitous again is the poet’s work, and how rich yet mellifluous is the strain! Had Tennyson written nothing else but these, with the verse included in the volumes issued by him in 1832 and 1842, how high would he have been placed in the choir of song, and how supreme should we have deemed his art! In “The Princess” alone there are songs that would have made any poet’s reputation, while for music and color, and especially for perfection of poetic workmanship, they are almost matchless in their beauty.

Fortunately, however, the poet was to give us much even beyond these surpassingly beautiful things, and make a more unique and distinctive contribution to the verse of his era. In the years that followed the production of his early writings the poet matures in thought as his art ripens and reaches still higher qualities of craftsmanship. Recluse as he was, he moreover had his experiences of life and drank deeply of sorrow’s cup, as we see in “In Memoriam,”–that noble tribute to his youthful friend, Arthur Hallam, with its grand hymnal qualities and powerful and reverent lessons for an age shifting in its beliefs and unconfirmed in its faith. In later work from his pen we also see the Laureate–for he has now received official recognition from his nation–in his relations to the culture as well as to the thought of his time, keeping pace with the age in all its complex engrossments and problems. This is shown in much and varied work turned out with its author’s loving interest in the poetic art, and with characteristic delicacy and finish. The most important labor of this later time includes “The Princess,” “Maud and Other Poems,” “Enoch Arden,” the dramas “Becket,” “Queen Mary,” and “Harold,” “Tiresias,” “Demeter,” “The Foresters,” but above all, and most notably, that grand epic of King Arthur’s time,–“The Idylls of the King.” In the latter, the most characteristic, and perhaps the most permanent, of Tennyson’s work, the poet manifests his historic sense and love for England’s legendary past, and achieves his design not only to glorify it, but to imbue it with a deep ethical motive and underlying purpose, the expression of his own chivalrous, knightly soul and strenuous, thoughtful, and blameless life. In these splendid tales of knight-errantry we have the full flower of the poet’s genius, narrated in the true romantic spirit, but with an ideality and imagination quite Tennysonian, and with a spiritualistic touch in harmony with “the voice of the age” that reminds us that,–

“Our little systems have their day; They have their day and cease to be: They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”

It is with such themes and speculations that Tennyson has powerfully and impressively influenced his age. Beyond and above the mere artistry of the poet, we recognize his interest in man’s higher, spiritual being, his love for nature, and awe in contemplating the heights and depths of infinite time and space, ever looking upward and inward at the mysteries of the world behind the phenomena of sense. It is difficult, in set theological terms, to define the poet’s creed, though we know that he was won by the Broad Church teaching of his friends, Frederick Robertson and Denison Maurice, and had himself many a battle to fight with honest doubts until–as his ‘Crossing the Bar’ shows us–he finally conquered and laid them. But while there is an absence of definite doctrine in his work there is no question about his religious convictions or of his belief in the eternal verities, the immanence of God in man and the universe. Throughout his poems he assumes the existence of a great Spirit and recognizes that our souls are a part of Him, however Faith at times seems to veil her face from the poet, and all appears a mystery, though a mystery presided over by infinite Power and Love. The great problems of metaphysics and of man’s origin and destiny, we are told, occupied much of his thought, and he dwelt upon them with eager, intense interest, and touched upon them with great candor, earnestness, and truthfulness. No sophistry could shake his belief in man’s immortality, for without belief in this doctrine the human race, he was convinced, had not incentive enough to virtue, while all man’s inspirations were otherwise meaningless. For the doctrine of Evolution, in its materialistic aspect, he had nothing but scorn, though he accepted it in the more spiritual guise with which Russel Wallace propounded it. If we come from the brutes we are nevertheless linked with the Divine, he believed, and it was the Divine in man that was to conquer the brute within him, and, in the upward struggle, work out salvation. So, in the realm of physical science, on the principles of which, as Huxley tells us, he had a great grasp, the poet, while appalled by the mystery, accepts and indeed rejoices in its truths, though he cannot acquiesce in a godless world or in the denial of a life to come, in which the race, through infinite love, shall be brought into union with God.

But leaving here Tennyson’s speculations and beliefs,–a most interesting part of the poet’s analytical and reflective character,–let us look for a little at the man personally, and record briefly the chief incidents in his quiet though ideal home-life. To those who know the Memoir by his son, Hallam Tennyson,–a memoir that while paying honor to filial reverence and devotion is at the same time and in all respects most worthy of its high theme,–the events in the poet’s life will hardly need dwelling upon, though they throw much light on, and impart the distinction of a high dignity to, the Laureate’s work. The life Hallam Tennyson describes was, we know, not lived in the public eye, and was wholly without sensational elements or any of the vapid interests which usually attach to a man whose name is, in a special sense, public property, and about whom the world was eagerly, and often officiously, curious. The life the poet lived, in a popular sense, lacked all that usually attracts the masses, for he was personally little known to his generation, rarely seen among large gatherings of the people, and, great Englishman as he was, was almost a stranger, in his later years at least, in the English metropolis, or, if we except the seats of the universities, in any of the chief towns of the kingdom. And yet, in another and a higher sense, the century has hardly known among its many intellectual forces one that has been more influential in its effect upon literary art, or in certain directions has more potently influenced the ideals and more profoundly given expression to the ethical and philosophic thought of the time. Secluded as his life was, it was one not of obscurity or of mere asceticism; on the contrary, it was rich in all the elements that make for a great reputation, and ever devoted to strenuous, elevating purpose, and to an ideal poetic career.

So far as his tastes and opportunity offered, Tennyson’s life, moreover, was enriched by many wise and noble friendships, and by intimacy with not a few of the best and most thoughtful minds of his age. It was spent, we rejoice to think also, in unceasing toil in and for his high art, with a resulting productiveness which proved the extent and varied range of his labors as well as the mastery of his craft.

Until the appearance of the biography referred to, we had known the Laureate almost wholly through his books. Now, thanks to the authoritative record of his accomplished surviving son, we know the poet as he lived, and feel that behind his writings there is a personality of the most interesting and impressive kind. It is a personality such as consorts with the opinions which most thoughtful readers of Tennyson’s writings must have had of one of the greatest and serenest minds of the age,–a poet who, aside from the splendor of his workmanship and the beauty and melody of his verse, has greatly enriched the poetic literature of the century, and has, we feel, given profound thought to the intellectual problems and spiritual aspirations of his era. Nor does the Memoir, as a revelation of the poet’s intellectual and personal life, fall away, on any page of it, from the high plane on which it has been prepared and written. There is no undue invasion, which a son’s pride might be apt to make, of domestic privacy, and no dealing with irrelevant topics or elaboration of those set forth with becoming modesty and restraint; far less is there the discussion of any subject, for a trivial or vain purpose. Throughout the work we meet with no unnecessary lifting of veils or treatment of themes merely to satisfy morbid curiosity. Everywhere there is the evidence of sound judgment, unimpeachable taste, and a wholesome sanity. This is especially the case in the frank revelation of the poet’s views on religion and his attitude towards scientific and theological thought, to which we have ourselves referred. In this respect, a large debt is due to the biographer for setting before the reader, not only the high ethical purpose which Tennyson had in view in selecting the themes of his poems and in the mode of handling them, but, as we have said, in showing us what beyond peradventure were his religious opinions, and, despite a certain curtaining of gloom, how profoundly he was influenced by faith in the Divine life. Nor is the least interest in the Memoir to be found in the light the biographer throws on the poet’s writings as a whole–how they were conceived and elaborated, and on the often hidden meaning that underlies some of the most thoughtful verse. This, to students of the Laureate’s writings, is of high value, in addition to the service rendered by the biographer in tracing in his father’s poetic work the influences which fashioned it and the pains he took to give it its marvellous beauty and artistic finish of expression.

It is this instructive as well as skilled and dignified treatment, with the vast literary and deep personal interest in the life, that will commend the Memoir to all who are proud of the Laureate’s fame, and wished to have nothing written that was unworthy of either the poet or the man, or that would in the least detract from his laurels. Nor does the restraint which the biographer imposes upon himself conceal from us the man in his human aspects, or lead him to set before the reader an imaginary, rather than a veritable and real, portraiture. We have a picture, it is true, of an almost ideal domestic life, and of a man of rare gifts and fine culture, whose work and career have been and are the pride and glory of the English-speaking race. But we have also the story of an author not free from human weaknesses, and though endowed with manifold and great gifts, yet who had to labor long and earnestly to perfect himself in his art, and in his early years had much discouragement and not a little adversity to contend with. With all the toil and stress his early years had known, when success came to the poet no one was less unspoiled by it; and when sunshine fell upon and gilded his life, maturing years brought him serenity, happiness, and, at length, peace.

Alfred Tennyson was born at his father’s rectory, Somersby, Lincolnshire, August 6,1809. He was the fourth of twelve children, seven of whom were sons, two of them, Frederick and Charles, being endowed, like Alfred, with poetic gifts. The poet’s mother, a woman of sweet and tender disposition, had much to do in moulding the future Laureate’s character; while from his father, a man of fine culture, he received not only much of his education, but his bent towards a recluse, bookish career. Alfred was from his earliest days a retired, shy child, fond of reading and given to rhyming, and with a characteristic love of nature and of quiet rural life. Later on he had a passion for the sea-coast, and for those scenes of storm and stress about the seagirt shores of old England which he was so feelingly and with such poetic beauty to depict in “Sea Dreams,” and in those incomparable songs, embodiments at once of sorrow and of faith, ‘Break, break, break,’ and ‘Crossing the Bar.’ Besides the education he received from his scholarly father, and at a school at Louth for four years, young Tennyson spent some years at Trinity College, Cambridge, where, though he did not take a degree, he won in 1829 the Chancellor’s medal for the best English poem of the year, the subject of which was ‘Timbuctoo.’ At college he had the good fortune to number among his friends several men who later in life were, like himself, to rise to eminence,–such as Henry Alford (afterwards Dean of Canterbury), R.C. Trench (later Archbishop of Dublin), C. Merivale (historian and Dean of Ely), Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), James Spedding (editor of Lord Bacon’s Works), Macaulay, Thackeray, and, most endeared of all, Arthur Henry Hallam, son of the historian, whose memory Tennyson has immortalized in “In Memoriam.” With him at college was also his brother Charles, one year his senior, with whom he collaborated in the collection of verse, issued in 1827, under the title of “Poems by Two Brothers.” In 1830, Tennyson made a journey to the Pyrenees with Arthur Hallam, who was engaged to the poet’s sister Emilia, and in the same year he published an independent volume, entitled “Poems chiefly Lyrical.” In this, his first venture alone in poetry, and in another issued in 1832, Tennyson was to manifest to the world his poetic powers and art, for they contained, besides much rhythmical and contemplative verse, such poems as ‘Mariana,’ ‘Claribel; ‘Lilian,’ ‘Lady Clare,’ ‘The Lotus Eaters,’ ‘A Dream of Pair Women,’ ‘The May Queen,’ and ‘The Miller’s Daughter,’ In spite of the great promise bodied forth in these works, the volumes were subject to not a little unfavorable criticism, which stayed his further publishing for a period of ten years, though not the furtherance of his creative work, nor his enthusiastic efforts towards increasing the perfection of his art.

It was not until 1842 that the poet again appeared in print, this time with a volume to which he appended his name, “Poems by Alfred Tennyson,” and which gave him high rank among the acknowledged singers of his day,–Wordsworth, Southey, Landor, Campbell, Rogers, and Leigh Hunt, in England; and in the New World, Longfellow, Bryant, Lowell, Whittier, and Emerson. The poet-contemporaries of his youth–Byron, Scott, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats–had by this time all died, and in 1843 Southey died, when Wordsworth, whom Tennyson reverenced, became Poet Laureate. The gap occasioned by the death of these early English poets of the century was now to be filled in large measure by Tennyson, though among the writers of song to arise were the Brownings, Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, and Swinburne. Critical appreciation of the volume of 1842 was happily encouraging to the poet; indeed, it was most gratifying, for its many remarkable beauties were now justly and adequately appraised, particularly such fine new themes as the volume contained–‘Ulysses,’ ‘Godiva,’ ‘The Two Voices,’ ‘The Talking Oak,’ ‘Oenone,’ ‘Locksley Hall,’ ‘The Vision of Sin,’ and ‘Morte D’Arthur,’ the germ of the future “Idylls of the King.” Nor on this side the Atlantic did the new volume lack substantial recognition, and from such competent critics as Emerson and Hawthorne; while among his English contemporaries Tennyson became, if we except for the time Wordsworth, the acknowledged head of English song. At this period the poet resided in London or its neighborhood, his family home in Lincolnshire having been broken up in 1837, six years after the death of his father. Here, in spite of the secluded life he led, he became a notable figure in literary circles, and greatly increased the range of his friends, correspondents, and admirers. Among the latter were the Carlyles, Thomas and his clever wife Jane being especially drawn to the poet, and to them we owe interesting sketches of the personal appearance of Tennyson at this time. Mrs. Carlyle, in one of her delightful letters gossiping about Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, and Tennyson, esteems the latter “the greatest genius of the three,” adding that “besides, he is a very handsome man, and a noble-hearted one, with something of the gypsy in his appearance, which for me is perfectly charming.” This is the historian, her husband’s, piece of portraiture: “A fine, large-featured, dim-eyed, bronze-colored, shaggy-headed man, dusty, smoky, free-and-easy; who swims, outwardly and inwardly, with great composure in an articulate element as of tranquil chaos and tobacco smoke; great now and then when he does emerge; a most restful, brotherly, solid-hearted man.” Another portrait we have from the Chelsea philosopher and scorner of shams which describes the poet very humanly as “one of the finest-looking men in the world, with a great shock of rough, dusky, dark hair; bright, laughing, hazel eyes; massive, aquiline face, most massive, yet most delicate; of sallow-brown complexion, almost Indian looking; clothes cynically loose, free-and-easy; smokes infinite tobacco. His voice is musical, metallic, fit for loud laughter and piercing wail, and all that may lie between; speech and speculation free and plenteous. I do not meet in these late decades such company over a pipe! We shall see what he will grow to.” Besides the Carlyles and other notable contemporaries, Tennyson numbered at this time among his intimates John Sterling, whose life was written by the author of “Sartor Resartus,” James Spedding, Bacon’s editor, who wrote a fine critique of the 1842 volume of poems for the Edinburgh Review, Aubrey De Vere, Edmund Lushington, A.P. Stanley (afterwards Dean of Westminster), and Edward Fitzgerald, the future translator of the “Rubaiyat,” or Quatrains of the Persian Poet, Omar Khayyam. These were all enthusiastic admirers of Tennyson’s work and art, and his close personal friends, who have left on record many interesting sketches of the poet in their published writings, or in letters to him, and especially in reminiscences furnished for the Memoir by the poet’s son.

Nine years before the appearance of the 1842 volume of Tennyson’s verse the poet’s bosom friend, Arthur Hallam, died at an immature age at Vienna, and his death was the subject of much brooding in noble, elegiac verse, written, as was Milton’s ‘Lycidas,’ to commemorate the loss of one very dear to the poet. In “In Memoriam,” as all know, Tennyson sought to assuage his grief and give fine, artistic expression to his profound sorrow at the loss of his companion and friend; but the work is more than a labored monument of woe, since it enshrines reflections of the most exalted and inspiring character on the eternally momentous themes of life, death, and immortality. The work was published in 1850, and it at once challenged the admiration of the world for the perfection of its art, no less than for its high contemplative beauty. This was the year when Wordsworth passed to the grave, and Tennyson, in his room, was given the English laureateship. In this year, also, we find him happily married to Emily S. Sellwood, a lady of Berks, to whom the poet had been engaged since 1837. With his bride he took up house at Twickenham, near London, where his son, Hallam Tennyson, was born in 1852. In the following year he removed to Farringford, on the Isle of Wight, which was to be his home for forty years, and where, as his son tells us, some of his best-known works were written. Here, in 1854, his second son, Lionel, was born, whose young life of promise was terminated by jungle fever thirty-two years later on a return voyage from India,–all that was mortal of him finding repose in the depths of the Red Sea. To complete the chief incidents in the poet’s personal career, we may here record that while Tennyson acquired another home at Aldworth, Surrey,–where he died Oct. 6, 1892, followed some four years later by his wife,–his happiest days were spent at Farringford, the pilgrimage place of many eminent worshippers of the poet’s muse, where was dispensed an unostentatious but open-handed and genial British hospitality. It should be added that, besides the perquisites which attach to the office of the Poet Laureate, Tennyson was given from 1845 a pension of L200 ($1000) and that, while in 1865 he refused a baronetcy, in 1884 he accepted a peerage, and had the honor of burial (Oct. 12, 1892) in Westminster Abbey.

We now revert to the poet’s early, or, rather, to his middle-age, creative years, and to a resume of his principal writings, with a brief, running comment on his message and art. In 1847, three years before he became Laureate, he published “The Princess,” a charming narrative poem in blank verse, which, though it abounds in fine descriptions and has an obvious moral in the treatment of the theme,–the woman question of today,–is inherently lacking in unity and strength, as well as weak in the depicting of the characters. In later editions the poem was amended in several faulty respects, and was especially enriched by the insertion between the cantos of many lovely and now familiar songs, which serve not only to bind together the whole structure of the poem, but to enhance and enforce its high moral meaning. Any analysis of “The Princess” is here deemed unnecessary, since it must not only be familiar to most readers of the poet’s works, but familiar also in the varied annotated editions of such editors as Rolfe, Woodberry, and Wilson Farrand. Familiar, it is believed, also, that it will be to Tennysonian students in the “Study of the Princess,” with critical and explanatory notes by Dr. S.E. Dawson, of Montreal (now of Ottawa, Canada),–an able commentary which received the approval of Lord Tennyson himself, and elicited from him a highly interesting letter to the author on points in the poem either misunderstood or not discerningly apprehended by other critics and reviewers. The purport of the poem, it may be said, however, is to frown upon revolutionary attempts to alter the position of women, of scholastically be-gowned and college-capped dames, who would seek by other than nature’s ways to put the sex upon an equality with man, while repressing their own individuality, doing violence to their maternal instincts, and trampling upon their “gracious household ways.” In the handling of the “medley” Tennyson brings into exercise not only his far-seeing powers, which were greatly in advance of his time, but his gifts of raillery and humor, especially in the early divisions of the poem, as well as his high, serious motives in the moral lessons to which he points in the later cantos, where he aims at the elevation of women in correspondence with the diversity of their natures, for, as he himself says, “Woman is not undeveloped man, but diverse.” His ideal of perfect womanhood he would attain through the awakening power of the affections and the transforming power of love, rather than by ignoring the difference of physique, founding women’s universities, and becoming blue-stockinged high priestesses of learning. Of the medley of characters in the poem, poet-princes in disguise at the college, violet-hooded lady principals,

“With prudes for proctors, dowagers for deans, And sweet girl-graduates in their golden hair,”

it is Lady Psyche’s child that is the true, effective heroine of the story, as Dr. Dawson aptly points out. “Ridiculous in the lecture room, the babe in the poem, as in the songs, is made the central point upon which the plot turns, for the unconscious child is the concrete embodiment of Nature herself, clearing away all merely intellectual theories by her silent influence.” This is the explanation, then, of the appearance of the babe–symbol of the power and tenderness of Nature–in critical passages of the poem, as well as in the unsurpassably beautiful intercalary songs, for it is the child that enables the poet to soften the Princess’s nature toward the Prince, and to effect the reconciliation between the Princess and Lady Psyche, while imparting beauty as well as high meaning in the recital of the incidents and development of the tale.

“In Memoriam,” as we have stated, appeared in 1850, and was unique in its appeal to the mind of the era as a stately meditative poem on a single theme,–the death of the poet’s friend, Arthur Hallam. The English language, if we except Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ and ‘Hymn to the Nativity,’ and Wordsworth’s grand ‘Ode on Intimations of Immortality,’ has no poem so noble or so faultless in its art as this magnificent series of detached elegies. The high thought, philosophic reflection, and passionate religious sentiment that mark the whole work, added to the exquisiteness of the versification, place it wellnigh supreme in the literature of elegiac poetry. Its grave, majestic hymnal measure adds to its solemn beauty and stateliness, while the varied phases of spiritualized thought and emotional grief which find expression in the poem seem to elevate it in its harmonies to the rank of a profound psalm-chant from the choir of heaven. In the sumptuously embellished edition of the elegy, embodying Mr. Harry Fenn’s drawings, with a sympathetic preface by the Rev. Dr. Henry Van Dyke, there is a brief but luminous analysis of the nine divisions of the poem, or commentary on the great classic. To those who desire to read the great elegy understandingly, the value of Dr. Van Dyke’s work is earnestly commended, since without this commentary, or such as are to be obtained in other critical sources, there is much of poetic beauty, of sorrow-brooding thought, and especially of emotional reflection on life, death, and immortality, in the hundred and thirty lyrics of which the poem consists, which will be lost to even the thoughtful reader. The poem, as a critic truthfully observes, has done much “to express and to consolidate all that is best in the life of England, its domestic affection, its patriotic feeling, its healthful morality, its rational and earnest religion.”

The sentimental metrical romance “Maud” appeared in 1855 (the year of the Crimean War), with some additional poems, including ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade,’ written after Raglan’s repulse of the Russians at Balaclava, and the fine ‘Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington.’ The lyrical love-drama, “Maud,” we are told, was one of Tennyson’s favorite productions, of which he was wont to read parts to his guests. As the poet has himself said of the monodrama, “it is a little Hamlet,” “the history of a morbid poetic soul, under the blighting influence of a recklessly speculative age. He is the heir of madness, an egotist with the makings of a cynic, raised to sanity by a pure and holy love which elevates his whole nature, passing from the heights of triumph to the lowest depths of misery, driven into madness by the loss of her whom he has loved, and when he has at length passed through the fiery furnace, and has recovered his reason, giving himself up to work for the good of mankind through the unselfishness born of his great passion.” The poem, when it appeared, was reviled by some critics as an allegory of the war with Russia, and they did its author the injustice of supposing that he lauded war for war’s sake, instead of, as is the case, applauding war only in defence of liberty. Apart from this misunderstanding, due to abhorrence of the war-frenzy of the period, the poem has outlived the mistaken objections to it when it appeared, and is now admired in its vindicated light, and especially for the rich and copious beauty manifest throughout the work, and for the magnificent lyric art with which it is composed.

We now come to Tennyson’s masterpiece, the “Idylls of the King,” an epic of chivalry, interpreted as personifying in its various characters the soul at war with the senses. These appeared during the years 1859 and 1872. Each of the Idylls, which has a connecting thread binding it to its fellow-allegory, takes its plot or fable from the legendary lore that has clustered round the name of Arthur, mythical King of the Britons about the era of the first invasion by the English. Out of the mass of material which was gathered by Sir Thomas Malory for his prose history of Arthur and his Knights, Tennyson takes the chief incidents and noblest heroic traits of character in the legends and blends them in a fashion of his own, steeping them in an atmosphere which his imagination creates, and lighting up all with a passion and glory of knightly adventure, as well as with a chasteness, purity, and high fervor of ethical thought, that must perpetuate the romance, as he has given it us, unto all time. The sections of the work as it now stands, in addition to its introductory dedication to the late Prince Consort, and the closing poem to the late Queen Victoria, are as follows: ‘The Coming of Arthur,’ which relates the mystery of the birth of the King, his marriage to Guinevere, daughter of Leodogran, King of Cameliard, and the wonders attending his crowning and establishment on the throne; next comes ‘Gareth and Lynette,’ a tale of love and scorn, and of the conflict between a false pride and a true ambition; to this is appended ‘The Marriage of Geraint,’ of Arthur’s court, and a member of the great order of the Round Table. Next follows ‘Geraint and Enid,’–Enid, the gentle and timid, whom Geraint had married after wooing the haughty Lynette,–a tale of pure and loyal womanhood, darkened for awhile by the clouds of jealousy and suspicion, yet closing happily long after the “spiteful whispers” had died down, and Geraint, assured of Enid’s fealty, had ruled his kingdom well and gone forth to “crown a happy life with a fair death” against the heathen of the Northern Sea, “fighting for the blameless King.” The next Idyll relates how the venerable magician Merlin succumbs to the thrall of the wily harlot Vivien, decked in her rare robe of samite, and yields to her the charm which was his secret. ‘Lancelot and Elaine’ follows with its conflict between the virgin innocence of Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat, and the guilty passion of the noble though erring Lancelot. To this, in order, succeeds ‘The Holy Grail,’ telling of the vain quest of Arthur’s Knights for the sacred relic. Despite its mystic character, this is admittedly one of the finest of the series of Idylls, and rich in its spiritual teaching,–that the heavenly vision is to be seen only by the eyes of purity and grace. ‘Pelleas and Ettarre’ is a tale of dole, showing the evil at work at the court, and the wrecking effect of another woman’s perfidy. ‘The Last Tournament’ has for its hero the court fool, who, amid the treason of Arthur’s knights, is firm in his loyal allegiance to the King. In contrast to him is Sir Tristram, who, despite his prowess, in jousts on the tilting-field, is “one to whom faith is foolishness, and the higher life an idle delusion.” The climax is reached in ‘Guinevere,’ whom, in spite of her faithlessness and guilty intrigue with Lancelot, Arthur, with his great high soul, pityingly loves and forgives. The end comes with the sad though shadowy ‘Passing of Arthur,’ the royal barge mysteriously carrying him out into the beyond, whence issue sounds of hail and greeting to the victor-hero

“—-as if some fair city were one voice Around a king returning from his wars.”

In 1864 Tennyson published “Enoch Arden,” an idyll of the hearth, depicting a pathetic incident in a seafarer’s career, of much simple idyllic beauty. The poem has some fine descriptive passages, and many examples of the poet’s rich word-painting in treating of the splendid tropic scenery among which the mariner is for the time cast. The volume contained also some minor pieces, including the dialect poem, ‘The Northern Farmer,’ with its humorous rendering of yokel speech. This was followed (1875-84) by three dramas on English historical themes, which, as the poet had not, as we have already hinted, the gifts of a Shakespeare, were somewhat unsuccessful, though written, despite Tennyson’s advanced years, with much fine force and vividness of character delineation. These dramas (to enumerate them in their historic order) were “Harold,” “Becket,” and “Queen Mary.” “Becket” is the best and most ambitious of them, though not, as “Queen Mary” is, a play designed for the stage. It is a vigorous Englishman’s closet study of a prolonged and bitter struggle–the conflict in Henry II.’s time between the church and the crown–as exhibited in the person and dominant ecclesiastical attitude of the audacious prelate who met his tragic end by Canterbury’s altar. “Harold” strikingly realizes to the modern reader the stirring activities of a strenuous time,–that of the English conquest by Norman William, opposed to the death by Harold at Senlac in 1066. The drama is as rich in character as it is swift and energetic in action. “Queen Mary” deals with the religious and political dissensions (the struggle between the Papacy and the Reformation) of Mary Tudor’s era, with her love for and marriage with Philip of Spain, and her hopeless yearning for an heir to the double crown of England and Spain. An important and prized addition to our English literature the drama undoubtedly is, but it is not more than a careful, accurate, and elaborate historical study. It lacks, both in spirit and movement, the characteristics of the Shakespearian drama. Its characters, however, are vividly brought out, and its situations are often picturesque and telling. The personages, moreover, are wanting in the play of creative effect, and the incidents lack the stir of inventive resource. Further, though the story of Mary’s life is essentially dramatic, and the incidents of her reign are tragic in the extreme, the poet does not seem to have extracted from either that which goes to the making of a great drama. This evidently is the result of following too faithfully the events of history and the records of the time, as well as, in some degree, from want of sympathy, which Tennyson could not impart, with the leading characters and their actions. Still, much is made of the materials; and though the personages and incidents appear in the narrative in the neutral tints of history, yet the period is made to reappear with a freshness and distinctness which, while it satisfies the scholar, gives a true charm to every lover of the drama. Again and again, as we read, are we reminded of the Laureate’s rare poetical fancy and fine literary instinct, and the dialogues contain many passages of striking thought and noble utterance. But the work is overcast by the great gloom of its central figure,–the gloom of bigotry, passion, jealousy, disappointment, and despair which ever environs the miserable Queen; and much though the poet has striven to brighten the picture and awaken sympathy for the weakness of the woman, who, royal mistress though she was, could not command her love to be requited, the poetic measure of his lines roughens and hardens to the close, when the curtain falls on what is felt to be a tragic and unlovely life.

We can only briefly refer to the other _dramatis personae_ introduced to us, who are among the notable historical characters that figure during Mary Tudor’s reign. They are those who take part in the incidents, religious, civil, and political, of the period, and are, for the most part, both in speech and bearing, the portraits familiar to us in Mr. Froude’s history. Of these the most pleasing is the Princess Elizabeth, whose portrait is drawn with masterly skill, and engages our interest as the fortunes of its original oscillates “‘Twixt Axe and Crown”:–

“A Tudor
Schooled by the shadow of death, a Boleyn too Glancing across the Tudor.”

But, aside from the interest in the safety of her person, which is in constant jeopardy from the jealousy of her half-sister, Elizabeth wins upon the reader by her modest, maidenly bearing, her frankness of manner, and by a playfulness of disposition which readily adapts itself to the restraints which the Queen is ever placing upon her person, and which endears her to the people, who, could the hated Mary be got rid of, would fain become her subjects. The civil strife of the period furnishes material for some powerful passages, which are wrought up with excellent effect, and in this connection Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Thomas Stafford, the Earl of Devon, Sir William Cecil, and other historical personages appear upon the stage. The other incidents introduced are those which attach themselves to the religious persecutions of the time, and which brought Cranmer to the stake, and give play to the papal intrigues of Pole, Gardiner, and the emissaries of the Spanish court. The second and third scenes in the fourth act devoted to Cranmer, which detail his martyrdom, are hardly so satisfactory as we think they might have been, though the poet here again follows closely the historical accounts. The scenes, however, give occasion for the introduction of a couple of local gossips whose provincial dialect and keen interest in the national and religious policy of the time, here as in occasional street scenes, are cleverly portrayed. This sapient reflection in the mouth of one of these gossips, Tib, is a specimen at hand:–

“A-burnin’ and a-burnin’, and a-making o’ volk madder and madder; but tek thou my word vor’t, Joan,–and I bean’t wrong not twice i’ ten year,–the burnin’ o’ the owld archbishop ‘ill burn the Pwoap out o’ this ‘ere land for iver and iver.”

Philip we have not spoken of; but he fills such a hateful niche in the historical gallery of the time, and the poet introduces him but to act his pitiful role, that we pass him by, though many of the grandest passages in the drama are those which give expression to Mary’s passionate love for him, and her longing desire for an issue of their marriage, which afterwards culminates in her madness and death.

We have to speak of but one other character in the drama, whose death, it has been said, was sufficient to honor and to dishonor an age. The beautiful Lady Jane Grey appears for a little among the shadows of the poem, and moves to her tragic fate.

“Seventeen,–a rose of grace!
Girl never breathed to rival such a rose! Rose never blew that equalled such a bud.”

A few songs of genuine Tennysonian harmony, pitched in the keys that most fittingly suit the singer’s mood, are interspersed through the drama, and serve to relieve the narratives of their gloom and plaint. Their presence, we cannot help thinking, recalls work better done, and more within the limitations of the poet’s genius, than this drama of “Queen Mary.” As a dramatic representation the drama had the advantage of being produced at the Lyceum Theatre, London, with all the historic art and sumptuous stage-setting with which Sir Henry Irving could well give it,–Irving himself personating Philip, while Miss Bateman took the part of Queen Mary. “Becket,” we should here add, was also given on the stage, and with much dramatic effectiveness, by Irving,–over fifty performances of it being called for. None of the dramas, however, as we have said, was a success, though each has its merit, while all are distinguished by many passages of noble and strenuous thought.

Other dramatic compositions the poet attempted, though of minor importance to the trilogy just spoken of. These were “The Falcon,” the groundwork of which is to be found in “The Decameron;” “The Cup,” a tragedy, rich in action, with an incisive dialogue, borrowed from Plutarch. The former was staged by Mr. and Mrs. Kendal, and had a run of sixty-seven nights; the latter also was staged with liberal magnificence, by Irving, and met with considerable success. “The Promise of May” is another play which was staged, in 1882, by Mrs. Bernard Beere, but met with failure by the critics, owing, in some degree, to its supposed caricature of modern agnostics, and to the repellent portrayal of one of the characters in the piece, the sensualist, Philip Edgar. Later, in (1892) appeared “The Foresters,” a pretty pastoral play, on the theme of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, which was produced on the boards in New York by Mr. Daly and his company, with a charming woodland setting. The later publications of the Laureate, in his own distinctive field of verse, embrace “The Lover’s Tale” (1879), “Ballads and other Poems” (1880), “Tiresias and Other Poems” (1885), “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After” (1886), “Demeter and Other Poems” (1889), and “The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and Other Poems,” in the year of the Poet’s death (1892). In these various volumes there is much admirable work and many tuneful lyrics in the old charming, lilting strain, with not a few serious, thoughtful, stately pieces of verse, “the after-glow,” as Stedman phrases it, “of a still radiant genius…. His after-song,” continues this fine critic, “does not wreak itself upon the master passions of love and ambition, and hence fastens less strongly on the thoughts of the young; nor does it come with the unused rhythm, the fresh and novel cadence, that stamped the now hackneyed measure with a lyric’s name. Yet, as to its art and imagery, the same effects are there, differing only in a more vigorous method, an intentional roughness, from the individual early verse. The new burthen is termed pessimistic, but for all its impatient summary of ills, it ends with a cry of faith.”

We must now hasten to a close, delightful as it would be to linger over so attractive a theme, and to dwell upon the personality of one who so uniquely represents the mind, as he has so remarkably influenced the thought, of his age. But considering the length of the present paper, this cannot be. Happily, however, the fruitage is ever with us of the poet’s full fourscore years of splendid achievement with the hallowing memory of a forceful, opulent, and blameless life. To few men of the past century can the reflecting mind of a coming time more interestingly or more instructively turn than to this profound thinker and mighty musical singer, steeped as he was in the varied culture of the ages, endowed with great prophetic powers, with phenomenal gifts of poetic expression, and with a soul so attuned to the harmonies of heaven as to make him at once the counsellor and the inspiring teacher of his time. Who, in comparison with him, has so felt the subtle charm, or so interpreted to us the infinite beauty, of the world in which we live, or more impressively deepened in the mind and conscience of the age belief in the verities of religion, while quelling its doubts and quickening its highest hopes and faith? “Tennyson was a passionate believer in the immortal life; this was so real to him that he had no patience with scepticism on the subject. To question it in his presence was to bring upon one’s head a torrent of denunciation and wrath. His great soul was intuitively conscious of spiritual realities, and he could not understand how little soulless microbes of men and women were destitute of his deep perception. Prayer was to him a living fact and power, and some of his words about it are among the noblest ever written. When some one asked him about Christ, he pointed to a flower and said, ‘What the sun is to that flower, Christ is to my soul.'”

Apart as he stood from the tumult and the frivolities of his age, he was yet of it, and sensibly and beneficently influenced it for its higher