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Alfred Tennyson by Andrew Lang

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This etext was produced by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk,
from the 1901 William Blackwood and Sons edition.


by Andrew Lang


In writing this brief sketch of the Life of Tennyson, and this
attempt to appreciate his work, I have rested almost entirely on the
Biography by Lord Tennyson (with his kind permission) and on the text
of the Poems. As to the Life, doubtless current anecdotes, not given
in the Biography, are known to me, and to most people. But as they
must also be familiar to the author of the Biography, I have not
thought it desirable to include what he rejected. The works of the
"localisers" I have not read: Tennyson disliked these researches, as
a rule, and they appear to be unessential, and often hazardous. The
professed commentators I have not consulted. It appeared better to
give one's own impressions of the Poems, unaffected by the
impressions of others, except in one or two cases where matters of
fact rather than of taste seemed to be in question. Thus on two or
three points I have ventured to differ from a distinguished living
critic, and have given the reasons for my dissent. Professor
Bradley's Commentary on In Memoriam {1} came out after this sketch
was in print. Many of the comments cited by Mr Bradley from his
predecessors appear to justify my neglect of these curious inquirers.
The "difficulties" which they raise are not likely, as a rule, to
present themselves to persons who read poetry "for human pleasure."

I have not often dwelt on parallels to be found in the works of
earlier poets. In many cases Tennyson deliberately reproduced
passages from Greek, Latin, and old Italian writers, just as Virgil
did in the case of Homer, Theocritus, Apollonius Rhodius, and others.
There are, doubtless, instances in which a phrase is unconsciously
reproduced by automatic memory, from an English poet. But I am less
inclined than Mr Bradley to think that unconscious reminiscence is
more common in Tennyson than in the poets generally. I have not
closely examined Keats and Shelley, for example, to see how far they
were influenced by unconscious memory. But Scott, confessedly, was
apt to reproduce the phrases of others, and once unwittingly borrowed
from a poem by the valet of one of his friends! I believe that many
of the alleged borrowings in Tennyson are either no true parallels at
all or are the unavoidable coincidences of expression which must
inevitably occur. The poet himself stated, in a lively phrase, his
opinion of the hunters after parallels, and I confess that I am much
of his mind. They often remind me of Mr Punch's parody on an
unfriendly review of Alexander Smith -

"Most WOMEN have NO CHARACTER at all." --POPE.
"No CHARACTER that servant WOMAN asked." --SMITH.

I have to thank Mr Edmund Gosse and Mr Vernon Rendall for their
kindness in reading my proof-sheets. They have saved me from some
errors, but I may have occasionally retained matter which, for one
reason or another, did not recommend itself to them. In no case are
they responsible for the opinions expressed, or for the critical
estimates. They are those of a Tennysonian, and, no doubt, would be
other than they are if the writer were younger than he is. It does
not follow that they would necessarily be more correct, though
probably they would be more in vogue. The point of view must shift
with each generation of readers, as ideas or beliefs go in or out of
fashion, are accepted, rejected, or rehabilitated. To one age
Tennyson may seem weakly superstitious; to another needlessly
sceptical. After all, what he must live by is, not his opinions, but
his poetry. The poetry of Milton survives his ideas; whatever may be
the fate of the ideas of Tennyson his poetry must endure.


The life and work of Tennyson present something like the normal type
of what, in circumstances as fortunate as mortals may expect, the
life and work of a modern poet ought to be. A modern poet, one says,
because even poetry is now affected by the division of labour. We do
not look to the poet for a large share in the practical activities of
existence: we do not expect him, like AEschylus and Sophocles,
Theognis and Alcaeus, to take a conspicuous part in politics and war;
or even, as in the Age of Anne, to shine among wits and in society.
Life has become, perhaps, too specialised for such multifarious
activities. Indeed, even in ancient days, as a Celtic proverb and as
the picture of life in the Homeric epics prove, the poet was already
a man apart--not foremost among statesmen and rather backward among
warriors. If we agree with a not unpopular opinion, the poet ought
to be a kind of "Titanic" force, wrecking himself on his own passions
and on the nature of things, as did Byron, Burns, Marlowe, and
Musset. But Tennyson's career followed lines really more normal, the
lines of the life of Wordsworth, wisdom and self-control directing
the course of a long, sane, sound, and fortunate existence. The
great physical strength which is commonly the basis of great mental
vigour was not ruined in Tennyson by poverty and passion, as in the
case of Burns, nor in forced literary labour, as in those of Scott
and Dickens. For long he was poor, like Wordsworth and Southey, but
never destitute. He made his early effort: he had his time of great
sorrow, and trial, and apparent failure. With practical wisdom he
conquered circumstances; he became eminent; he outlived reaction
against his genius; he died in the fulness of a happy age and of
renown. This full-orbed life, with not a few years of sorrow and
stress, is what Nature seems to intend for the career of a divine
minstrel. If Tennyson missed the "one crowded hour of glorious
life," he had not to be content in "an age without a name."

It was not Tennyson's lot to illustrate any modern theory of the
origin of genius. Born in 1809 of a Lincolnshire family, long
connected with the soil but inconspicuous in history, Tennyson had
nothing Celtic in his blood, as far as pedigrees prove. This is
unfortunate for one school of theorists. His mother (genius is
presumed to be derived from mothers) had a genius merely for moral
excellence and for religion. She is described in the poem of Isabel,
and was "a remarkable and saintly woman." In the male line, the
family was not (as the families of genius ought to be) brief of life
and unhealthy. "The Tennysons never die," said the sister who was
betrothed to Arthur Hallam. The father, a clergyman, was, says his
grandson, "a man of great ability," and his "excellent library" was
an element in the education of his family. "My father was a poet,"
Tennyson said, "and could write regular verse very skilfully." In
physical type the sons were tall, strong, and unusually dark:
Tennyson, when abroad, was not taken for an Englishman; at home,
strangers thought him "foreign." Most of the children had the
temperament, and several of the sons had some of the accomplishments,
of genius: whence derived by way of heredity is a question beyond
conjecture, for the father's accomplishment was not unusual. As
Walton says of the poet and the angler, they "were born to be so":
we know no more.

The region in which the paternal hamlet of Somersby lies, "a land of
quiet villages, large fields, grey hillsides, and noble tall-towered
churches, on the lower slope of a Lincolnshire wold," does not appear
to have been rich in romantic legend and tradition. The folk-lore of
Lincolnshire, of which examples have been published, does seem to
have a peculiar poetry of its own, but it was rather the humorous
than the poetical aspect of the country-people that Tennyson appears
to have known. In brief, we have nothing to inform us as to how
genius came into that generation of Tennysons which was born between
1807 and 1819. A source and a cause there must have been, but these
things are hidden, except from popular science.

Precocity is not a sign of genius, but genius is perhaps always
accompanied by precocity. This is especially notable in the cases of
painting, music, and mathematics; but in the matter of literature
genius may chiefly show itself in acquisition, as in Sir Walter
Scott, who when a boy knew much, but did little that would attract
notice. As a child and a boy young Tennyson was remarked both for
acquisition and performance. His own reminiscences of his childhood
varied somewhat in detail. In one place we learn that at the age of
eight he covered a slate with blank verse in the manner of Jamie
Thomson, the only poet with whom he was then acquainted. In another
passage he says, "The first poetry that moved me was my own at five
years old. When I was eight I remember making a line I thought
grander than Campbell, or Byron, or Scott. I rolled it out, it was
this -

'With slaughterous sons of thunder rolled the flood' -

great nonsense, of course, but I thought it fine!"

It WAS fine, and was thoroughly Tennysonian. Scott, Campbell, and
Byron probably never produced a line with the qualities of this
nonsense verse. "Before I could read I was in the habit on a stormy
day of spreading my arms to the wind and crying out, 'I hear a voice
that's speaking in the wind,' and the words 'far, far away' had
always a strange charm for me." A late lyric has this overword, FAR,

A boy of eight who knew the contemporary poets was more or less
precocious. Tennyson also knew Pope, and wrote hundreds of lines in
Pope's measure. At twelve the boy produced an epic, in Scott's
manner, of some six thousand lines. He "never felt himself more
truly inspired," for the sense of "inspiration" (as the late Mr Myers
has argued in an essay on the "Mechanism of Genius") has little to do
with the actual value of the product. At fourteen Tennyson wrote a
drama in blank verse. A chorus from this play (as one guesses), a
piece from "an unpublished drama written very early," is published in
the volume of 1830:-

"The varied earth, the moving heaven,
The rapid waste of roving sea,
The fountain-pregnant mountains riven
To shapes of wildest anarchy,
By secret fire and midnight storms
That wander round their windy cones."

These lines are already Tennysonian. There is the classical
transcript, "the varied earth," daedala tellus. There is the
geological interest in the forces that shape the hills. There is the
use of the favourite word "windy," and later in the piece -

"The troublous autumn's SALLOW gloom."

The young poet from boyhood was original in his manner.

Byron made him blase at fourteen. Then Byron died, and Tennyson
scratched on a rock "Byron is dead," on "a day when the whole world
seemed darkened for me." Later he considered Byron's poetry "too
much akin to rhetoric." "Byron is not an artist or a thinker, or a
creator in the higher sense, but a strong personality; he is
endlessly clever, and is now unduly depreciated." He "did give the
world another heart and new pulses, and so we are kept going." But
"he was dominated by Byron till he was seventeen, when he put him
away altogether."

In his boyhood, despite the sufferings which he endured for a while
at school at Louth; despite bullying from big boys and masters,
Tennyson would "shout his verses to the skies." "Well, Arthur, I
mean to be famous," he used to say to one of his brothers. He
observed nature very closely by the brook and the thundering sea-
shores: he was never a sportsman, and his angling was in the manner
of the lover of The Miller's Daughter. He was seventeen (1826) when
Poems by Two Brothers (himself and his brother Frederick) was
published with the date 1827. These poems contain, as far as I have
been able to discover, nothing really Tennysonian. What he had done
in his own manner was omitted, "being thought too much out of the
common for the public taste." The young poet had already saving
common-sense, and understood the public. Fragments of the true gold
are found in the volume of 1830, others are preserved in the
Biography. The ballad suggested by The Bride of Lammermoor was not
unworthy of Beddoes, and that novel, one cannot but think, suggested
the opening situation in Maud, where the hero is a modern Master of
Ravenswood in his relation to the rich interloping family and the
beautiful daughter. To this point we shall return. It does not
appear that Tennyson was conscious in Maud of the suggestion from
Scott, and the coincidence may be merely accidental.

The Lover's Tale, published in 1879, was mainly a work of the poet's
nineteenth year. A few copies had been printed for friends. One of
these, with errors of the press, and without the intended
alterations, was pirated by an unhappy man in 1875. In old age
Tennyson brought out the work of his boyhood. "It was written before
I had ever seen Shelley, though it is called Shelleyan," he said; and
indeed he believed that his work had never been imitative, after his
earliest efforts in the manner of Thomson and of Scott. The only
things in The Lover's Tale which would suggest that the poet here
followed Shelley are the Italian scene of the story, the character of
the versification, and the extraordinary luxuriance and exuberance of
the imagery. {2} As early as 1868 Tennyson heard that written copies
of The Lover's Tale were in circulation. He then remarked, as to the
exuberance of the piece: "Allowance must be made for abundance of
youth. It is rich and full, but there are mistakes in it. . . . The
poem is the breath of young love."

How truly Tennysonian the manner is may be understood even from the
opening lines, full of the original cadences which were to become so

"Here far away, seen from the topmost cliff,
Filling with purple gloom the vacancies
Between the tufted hills, the sloping seas
Hung in mid-heaven, and half way down rare sails,
White as white clouds, floated from sky to sky."

The narrative in parts one and two (which alone were written in
youth) is so choked with images and descriptions as to be almost
obscure. It is the story, practically, of a love like that of Paul
and Virginia, but the love is not returned by the girl, who prefers
the friend of the narrator. Like the hero of Maud, the speaker has a
period of madness and illusion; while the third part, "The Golden
Supper"--suggested by a story of Boccaccio, and written in maturity--
is put in the mouth of another narrator, and is in a different style.
The discarded lover, visiting the vault which contains the body of
his lady, finds her alive, and restores her to her husband. The
whole finished legend is necessarily not among the author's
masterpieces. But perhaps not even Keats in his earliest work
displayed more of promise, and gave more assurance of genius. Here
and there come turns and phrases, "all the charm of all the Muses,"
which remind a reader of things later well known in pieces more
mature. Such lines are -

"Strange to me and sweet,
Sweet through strange years,"

and -

"Like to a low-hung and a fiery sky
Hung round with RAGGED RIMS and burning folds."

And -

"Like sounds without the twilight realm of dreams,
Which wander round the bases of the hills."

We also note close observation of nature in the curious phrase -

"Cries of the partridge like a rusty key
Turned in a lock."

Of this kind was Tennyson's adolescent vein, when he left

"The poplars four
That stood beside his father's door,"

the Somersby brook, and the mills and granges, the seas of the
Lincolnshire coast, and the hills and dales among the wolds, for
Cambridge. He was well read in old and contemporary English
literature, and in the classics. Already he was acquainted with the
singular trance-like condition to which his poems occasionally
allude, a subject for comment later. He matriculated at Trinity,
with his brother Charles, on February 20, 1828, and had an interview
of a not quite friendly sort with a proctor before he wore the gown.

That Tennyson should go to Cambridge, not to Oxford, was part of the
nature of things, by which Cambridge educates the majority of English
poets, whereas Oxford has only "turned out" a few--like Shelley. At
that time, as in Macaulay's day, the path of university honours at
Cambridge lay through Mathematics, and, except for his prize poem in
1829, Tennyson took no honours at all. His classical reading was
pursued as literature, not as a course of grammar and philology. No
English poet, at least since Milton, had been better read in the
classics; but Tennyson's studies did not aim at the gaining of
academic distinction. His aspect was such that Thompson, later
Master of Trinity, on first seeing him come into hall, said, "That
man must be a poet." Like Byron, Shelley, and probably Coleridge,
Tennyson looked the poet that he was: "Six feet high, broad-chested,
strong-limbed, his face Shakespearian and with deep eyelids, his
forehead ample, crowned with dark wavy hair, his head finely poised."

Not much is recorded of Tennyson as an undergraduate. In our days
efforts would have been made to enlist so promising a recruit in one
of the college boats; but rowing was in its infancy. It is a
peculiarity of the universities that little flocks of men of unusual
ability come up at intervals together, breaking the monotony of
idlers, prize scholars, and honours men. Such a group appeared at
Balliol in Matthew Arnold's time, and rather later, at various
colleges, in the dawn of Pre-Raphaelitism. The Tennysons--Alfred,
Frederick, and Charles--were members of such a set. There was Arthur
Hallam, son of the historian, from Eton; there was Spedding, the
editor and biographer of Bacon; Milnes (Lord Houghton), Blakesley
(Dean of Lincoln), Thompson, Merivale, Trench (a poet, and later,
Archbishop of Dublin), Brookfield, Buller, and, after Tennyson the
greatest, Thackeray, a contemporary if not an "Apostle." Charles
Buller's, like Hallam's, was to be an "unfulfilled renown." Of
Hallam, whose name is for ever linked with his own, Tennyson said
that he would have been a great man, but not a great poet; "he was as
near perfection as mortal man could be." His scanty remains are
chiefly notable for his divination of Tennyson as a great poet; for
the rest, we can only trust the author of In Memoriam and the verdict
of tradition.

The studies of the poet at this time included original composition in
Greek and Latin verse, history, and a theme that he alone has made
poetical, natural science. All poetry has its roots in the age
before natural science was more than a series of nature-myths. The
poets have usually, like Keats, regretted the days when

"There was an awful rainbow once in heaven,"

when the hills and streams were not yet "dispeopled of their dreams."
Tennyson, on the other hand, was already finding material for poetry
in the world as seen through microscope and telescope, and as
developed through "aeonian" processes of evolution. In a notebook,
mixed with Greek, is a poem on the Moon--not the moon of Selene, "the
orbed Maiden," but of astronomical science. In Memoriam recalls the
conversations on labour and politics, discussions of the age of the
Reform Bill, of rick-burning (expected to "make taters cheaper"), and
of Catholic emancipation; also the emancipation of such negroes as
had not yet tasted the blessings of freedom. In politics Tennyson
was what he remained, a patriot, a friend of freedom, a foe of
disorder. His politics, he said, were those "of Shakespeare, Bacon,
and every sane man." He was one of the Society of Apostles, and
characteristically contributed an essay on Ghosts. Only the preface
survives: it is not written in a scientific style; but bids us "not
assume that any vision IS baseless." Perhaps the author went on to
discuss "veridical hallucinations," but his ideas about these things
must be considered later.

It was by his father's wish that Tennyson competed for the English
prize poem. The theme, Timbuctoo, was not inspiring. Thackeray
wrote a good parody of the ordinary prize poem in Pope's metre:-

"I see her sons the hill of glory mount,
And sell their sugars on their own account;
Prone to her feet the prostrate nations come,
Sue for her rice and barter for her rum."

Tennyson's work was not much more serious: he merely patched up an
old piece, in blank verse, on the battle of Armageddon. The poem is
not destitute of Tennysonian cadence, and ends, not inappropriately,
with "All was night." Indeed, all WAS night.

An ingenious myth accounts for Tennyson's success: At Oxford, says
Charles Wordsworth, the author was more likely to have been
rusticated than rewarded. But already (1829) Arthur Hallam told Mr
Gladstone that Tennyson "promised fair to be the greatest poet of our
generation, perhaps of our century."

In 1830 Tennyson published the first volume of which he was sole
author. Browning's Pauline was of the year 1833. It was the very
dead hours of the Muses. The great Mr Murray had ceased, as one
despairing of song, to publish poetry. Bulwer Lytton, in the preface
to Paul Clifford (1830), announced that poetry, with every other form
of literature except the Novel, was unremunerative and unread.
Coleridge and Scott were silent: indeed Sir Walter was near his
death; Wordsworth had shot his bolt, though an arrow or two were left
in the quiver. Keats, Shelley, and Byron were dead; Milman's brief
vogue was departing. It seemed as if novels alone could appeal to
readers, so great a change in taste had been wrought by the sixteen
years of Waverley romances. The slim volume of Tennyson was
naturally neglected, though Leigh Hunt reviewed it in the Tatler.
Hallam's comments in the Englishman's Magazine, though enthusiastic
(as was right and natural), were judicious. "The author imitates no
one." Coleridge did not read all the book, but noted "things of a
good deal of beauty. The misfortune is that he has begun to write
verses without very well understanding what metre is." As Tennyson
said in 1890, "So I, an old man, who get a poem or poems every day,
might cast a casual glance at a book, and seeing something which I
could not scan or understand, might possibly decide against the book
without further consideration." As a rule, the said books are
worthless. The number of versifiers makes it hard, indeed, for the
poet to win recognition. One little new book of rhyme is so like
another, and almost all are of so little interest!

The rare book that differs from the rest has a bizarrerie with its
originality, and in the poems of 1830 there was, assuredly, more than
enough of the bizarre. There were no hyphens in the double epithets,
and words like "tendriltwine" seemed provokingly affected. A kind of
lusciousness, like that of Keats when under the influence of Leigh
Hunt, may here and there be observed. Such faults as these catch the
indifferent eye when a new book is first opened, and the volume of
1830 was probably condemned by almost every reader of the previous
generation who deigned to afford it a glance. Out of fifty-six
pieces only twenty-three were reprinted in the two volumes of 1842,
which won for Tennyson the general recognition of the world of
letters. Five or six of the pieces then left out were added as
Juvenilia in the collected works of 1871, 1872. The whole mass
deserves the attention of students of the poet's development.

This early volume may be said to contain, in the germ, all the great
original qualities of Tennyson, except the humour of his rural
studies and the elaboration of his Idylls. For example, in Mariana
we first note what may be called his perfection and accomplishment.
The very few alterations made later are verbal. The moated grange of
Mariana in Measure for Measure, and her mood of desertion and
despair, are elaborated by a precision of truth and with a perfection
of harmony worthy of Shakespeare himself, and minutely studied from
the natural scenes in which the poet was born. If these verses alone
survived out of the wreck of Victorian literature, they would
demonstrate the greatness of the author as clearly as do the
fragments of Sappho. Isabel (a study of the poet's mother) is almost
as remarkable in its stately dignity; while Recollections of the
Arabian Nights attest the power of refined luxury in romantic
description, and herald the unmatched beauty of The Lotos-Eaters.
The Poet, again, is a picture of that which Tennyson himself was to
fulfil; and Oriana is a revival of romance, and of the ballad, not
limited to the ballad form as in its prototype, Helen of Kirkconnell.
Curious and exquisite experiment in metre is indicated in the Leonine
Elegiacs, in Claribel, and several other poems. Qualities which were
not for long to find public expression, speculative powers brooding,
in various moods, on ultimate and insoluble questions, were attested
by The Mystic, and Supposed Confessions of a Second-rate Sensitive
Mind not in Unity with Itself, an unlucky title of a remarkable
performance. "In this, the most agitated of all his poems, we find
the soul urging onward

'Thro' utter dark a full-sail'd skiff,
Unpiloted i' the echoing dance
Of reboant whirlwinds;'

and to the question, 'Why not believe, then?' we have as answer a
simile of the sea, which cannot slumber like a mountain tarn, or

'Draw down into his vexed pools
All that blue heaven which hues and paves'

the tranquil inland mere." {3}

The poet longs for the faith of his infant days and of his mother -

"Thy mild deep eyes upraised, that knew
The beauty and repose of faith,
And the clear spirit shining thro'."

That faith is already shaken, and the long struggle for belief has
already begun.

Tennyson, according to Matthew Arnold, was not un esprit puissant.
Other and younger critics, who have attained to a cock-certain mood
of negation, are apt to blame him because, in fact, he did not
finally agree with their opinions. If a man is necessarily a
weakling or a hypocrite because, after trying all things, he is not
an atheist or a materialist, then the reproach of insincerity or of
feebleness of mind must rest upon Tennyson. But it is manifest that,
almost in boyhood, he had already faced the ideas which, to one of
his character, almost meant despair: he had not kept his eyes
closed. To his extremely self-satisfied accusers we might answer, in
lines from this earliest volume (The Mystic):-

"Ye scorn him with an undiscerning scorn;
Ye cannot read the marvel in his eye,
The still serene abstraction."

He would behold

"One shadow in the midst of a great light,
One reflex from eternity on time,
One mighty countenance of perfect calm,
Awful with most invariable eyes."

His mystic of these boyish years -

"Often lying broad awake, and yet
Remaining from the body, and apart
In intellect and power and will, hath heard
Time flowing in the middle of the night,
And all things creeping to a day of doom."

In this poem, never republished by the author, is an attempt to
express an experience which in later years he more than once
endeavoured to set forth in articulate speech, an experience which
was destined to colour his finial speculations on ultimate problems
of God and of the soul. We shall later have to discuss the opinion
of an eminent critic, Mr Frederic Harrison, that Tennyson's ideas,
theological, evolutionary, and generally speculative, "followed,
rather than created, the current ideas of his time." "The train of
thought" (in In Memoriam), writes Mr Harrison, "is essentially that
with which ordinary English readers had been made familiar by F. D.
Maurice, Professor Jowett, Dr Martineau, Ecce Homo, Hypatia." Of
these influences only Maurice, and Maurice only orally, could have
reached the author of The Mystic and the Supposed Confessions. Ecce
Homo, Hypatia, Mr Jowett, were all in the bosom of the future when In
Memoriam was written. Now, The Mystic and the Supposed Confessions
are prior to In Memoriam, earlier than 1830. Yet they already
contain the chief speculative tendencies of In Memoriam; the growing
doubts caused by evolutionary ideas (then familiar to Tennyson,
though not to "ordinary English readers"), the longing for a return
to childlike faith, and the mystical experiences which helped
Tennyson to recover a faith that abode with him. In these things he
was original. Even as an undergraduate he was not following "a train
of thought made familiar" by authors who had not yet written a line,
and by books which had not yet been published.

So much, then, of the poet that was to be and of the philosopher
existed in the little volume of the undergraduate. In The Mystic we
notice a phrase, two words long, which was later to be made familiar,
"Daughters of time, divinely tall," reproduced in the picture of

"A daughter of the Gods, divinely tall,
And most divinely fair."

The reflective pieces are certainly of more interest now (though they
seem to have satisfied the poet less) than the gallery of airy fairy
Lilians, Adelines, Rosalinds, and Eleanores:-

"Daughters of dreams and of stories,"


"Faustine, Fragoletta, Dolores,
Felise, and Yolande, and Juliette."

Cambridge, which he was soon to leave, did not satisfy the poet.
Oxford did not satisfy Gibbon, or later, Shelley; and young men of
genius are not, in fact, usually content with universities which,
perhaps, are doing their best, but are neither governed nor populated
by minds of the highest and most original class.

"You that do profess to teach
And teach us nothing, feeding not the heart."

The universities, in fact, teach a good deal of that which can be
learned, but the best things cannot be taught. The universities give
men leisure, books, and companionship, to learn for themselves. All
tutors cannot be, and at that time few dreamed of being, men like
Jowett and T. H. Green, Gamaliels at whose feet undergraduates sat
with enthusiasm, "did EAGERLY frequent," like Omar Khayyam. In later
years Tennyson found closer relations between dons and
undergraduates, and recorded his affection for his university. She
had supplied him with such companionship as is rare, and permitted
him to "catch the blossom of the flying terms," even if tutors and
lecturers were creatures of routine, terriblement enfonces dans la
matiere, like the sire of Madelon and Cathos, that honourable

Tennyson just missed, by going down, a visit of Wordsworth to
Cambridge. The old enthusiast of revolution was justifying passive
obedience: thirty years had turned the almost Jacobin into an almost
Jacobite. Such is the triumph of time. In the summer of 1830
Tennyson, with Hallam, visited the Pyrenees. The purpose was
political--to aid some Spanish rebels. The fruit is seen in OEnone
and Mariana in the South.

In March 1831 Tennyson lost his father. "He slept in the dead man's
bed, earnestly desiring to see his ghost, but no ghost came." "You
see," he said, "ghosts do not generally come to imaginative people;"
a remark very true, though ghosts are attributed to "imagination."
Whatever causes these phantasms, it is not the kind of phantasia
which is consciously exercised by the poet. Coleridge had seen far
too many ghosts to believe in them; and Coleridge and Donne apart,
with the hallucinations of Goethe and Shelley, who met themselves,
what poet ever did "see a ghost"? One who saw Tennyson as he
wandered alone at this period called him "a mysterious being,
seemingly lifted high above other mortals, and having a power of
intercourse with the spirit world not granted to others." But it was
the world of the poet, not of the "medium."

The Tennysons stayed on at the parsonage for six years. But,
anticipating their removal, Arthur Hallam in 1831 dealt in prophecy
about the identification in the district of places in his friend's
poems--"critic after critic will trace the wanderings of the brook,"
as,--in fact, critic after critic has done. Tennyson disliked--these
"localisers." The poet's walks were shared by Arthur Hallam, then
affianced to his sister Emily.

CHAPTER II.--POEMS OF 1831-1833.

By 1832 most of the poems of Tennyson's second volume were
circulating in MS. among his friends, and no poet ever had friends
more encouraging. Perhaps bards of to-day do not find an eagerness
among their acquaintance for effusions in manuscript, or in proof-
sheets. The charmed volume appeared at the end of the year (dated
1833), and Hallam denounced as "infamous" Lockhart's review in the
Quarterly. Infamous or not, it is extremely diverting. How Lockhart
could miss the great and abundant poetry remains a marvel. Ten years
later the Scorpion repented, and invited Sterling to review any book
he pleased, for the purpose of enabling him to praise the two volumes
of 1842, which he did gladly. Lockhart hated all affectation and
"preciosity," of which the new book was not destitute. He had been
among Wordsworth's most ardent admirers when Wordsworth had few, but
the memories of the war with the "Cockney School" clung to him, the
war with Leigh Hunt, and now he gave himself up to satire. Probably
he thought that the poet was a member of a London clique. There is
really no excuse for Lockhart, except that he DID repent, that much
of his banter was amusing, and that, above all, his censures were
accepted by the poet, who altered, later, many passages of a fine
absurdity criticised by the infamous reviewer. One could name great
prose-writers, historians, who never altered the wondrous errors to
which their attention was called by critics. Prose-writers have been
more sensitively attached to their glaring blunders in verifiable
facts than was this very sensitive poet to his occasional lapses in

The Lady of Shalott, even in its early form, was more than enough to
give assurance of a poet. In effect it is even more poetical, in a
mysterious way, if infinitely less human, than the later treatment of
the same or a similar legend in Elaine. It has the charm of
Coleridge, and an allegory of the fatal escape from the world of
dreams and shadows into that of realities may have been really
present to the mind of the young poet, aware that he was "living in
phantasy." The alterations are usually for the better. The daffodil
is not an aquatic plant, as the poet seems to assert in the first
form -

"The yellow-leaved water-lily,
The green sheathed daffodilly,
Tremble in the water chilly,
Round about Shalott."

Nobody can prefer to keep

"Though the squally east wind keenly
Blew, with folded arms serenely
By the water stood the queenly
Lady of Shalott."

However stoical the Lady may have been, the reader is too seriously
sympathetic with her inevitable discomfort -

"All raimented in snowy white
That loosely flew,"

as she was. The original conclusion was distressing; we were dropped
from the airs of mysterious romance:-

"They crossed themselves, their stars they blest,
Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest;
There lay a parchment on her breast,
That puzzled more than all the rest
The well-fed wits at Camelot."

Hitherto we have been "puzzled," but as with the sublime incoherences
of a dream. Now we meet well-fed wits, who say, "Bless my stars!" as
perhaps we should also have done in the circumstances--a dead lady
arriving, in a very cold east wind, alone in a boat, for "her blood
was frozen slowly," as was natural, granting the weather and the
lady's airy costume. It is certainly matter of surprise that the
young poet's vision broke up in this humorous manner. And, after
all, it is less surprising that the Scorpion, finding such matter in
a new little book by a new young man, was more sensitive to the
absurdity than to the romance. But no lover of poetry should have
been blind to the almost flawless excellence of Mariana in the South,
inspired by the landscape of the Provencal tour with Arthur Hallam.
In consequence of Lockhart's censures, or in deference to the maturer
taste of the poet, The Miller's Daughter was greatly altered before
1842. It is one of the earliest, if not the very earliest, of
Tennyson's domestic English idylls, poems with conspicuous beauties,
but not without sacrifices to that Muse of the home affections on
whom Sir Barnes Newcome delivered his famous lecture. The seventh
stanza perhaps hardly deserved to be altered, as it is, so as to
bring in "minnows" where "fish" had been the reading, and where
"trout" would best recall an English chalk stream. To the angler the
rising trout, which left the poet cold, is at least as welcome as the
"reflex of a beauteous form." "Every woman seems an angel at the
water-side," said "that good old angler, now with God," Thomas Todd
Stoddart, and so "the long and listless boy" found it to be. It is
no wonder that the mother was "SLOWLY brought to yield consent to my
desire." The domestic affections, in fact, do not adapt themselves
so well to poetry as the passion, unique in Tennyson, of Fatima. The
critics who hunt for parallels or plagiarisms will note -

"O Love, O fire! once he drew
With one long kiss my whole soul thro'
My lips,"

and will observe Mr Browning's

"Once he kissed
My soul out in a fiery mist."

As to OEnone, the scenery of that earliest of the classical idylls is
borrowed from the Pyrenees and the tour with Hallam. "It is possible
that the poem may have been suggested by Beattie's Judgment of
Paris," says Mr Collins; it is also possible that the tale which

"Quintus Calaber
Somewhat lazily handled of old"

may have reached Tennyson's mind from an older writer than Beattie.
He is at least as likely to have been familiar with Greek myth as
with the lamented "Minstrel." The form of 1833, greatly altered in
1842, contained such unlucky phrases as "cedar shadowy," and
"snowycoloured," "marblecold," "violet-eyed"--easy spoils of
criticism. The alterations which converted a beautiful but faulty
into a beautiful and flawless poem perhaps obscure the significance
of OEnone's "I will not die alone," which in the earlier volume
directly refers to the foreseen end of all as narrated in Tennyson's
late piece, The Death of OEnone. The whole poem brings to mind the
glowing hues of Titian and the famous Homeric lines on the divine
wedlock of Zeus and Hera.

The allegory or moral of The Palace of Art does not need explanation.
Not many of the poems owe more to revision. The early stanza about
Isaiah, with fierce Ezekiel, and "Eastern Confutzee," did undeniably
remind the reader, as Lockhart said, of The Groves of Blarney.

"With statues gracing that noble place in,
All haythen goddesses most rare,
Petrarch, Plato, and Nebuchadnezzar,
All standing naked in the open air."

In the early version the Soul, being too much "up to date,"

"Lit white streams of dazzling gas,"

like Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford.

"Thus her intense, untold delight,
In deep or vivid colour, smell, and sound,
Was flattered day and night."

Lockhart was not fond of Sir Walter's experiments in gas, the "smell"
gave him no "deep, untold delight," and his "infamous review" was
biassed by these circumstances.

The volume of 1833 was in nothing more remarkable than in its proof
of the many-sidedness of the author. He offered mediaeval romance,
and classical perfection touched with the romantic spirit, and
domestic idyll, of which The May Queen is probably the most popular
example. The "mysterious being," conversant with "the spiritual
world," might have been expected to disdain topics well within the
range of Eliza Cook. He did not despise but elevated them, and
thereby did more to introduce himself to the wide English public than
he could have done by a century of Fatimas or Lotos-Eaters. On the
other hand, a taste more fastidious, or more perverse, will scarcely
be satisfied with pathos which in process of time has come to seem
"obvious." The pathos of early death in the prime of beauty is less
obvious in Homer, where Achilles is to be the victim, or in the
laments of the Anthology, where we only know that the dead bride or
maiden was fair; but the poor May Queen is of her nature rather

"That good man, the clergyman, has told me words of peace,"

strikes a note rather resembling the Tennysonian parody of Wordsworth

"A Mr Wilkinson, a clergyman."

The Lotos-Eaters, of course, is at the opposite pole of the poet's
genius. A few plain verses of the Odyssey, almost bald in their
reticence, are the point de repere of the most magical vision
expressed in the most musical verse. Here is the languid charm of
Spenser, enriched with many classical memories, and pictures of
natural beauty gorgeously yet delicately painted. After the excision
of some verses, rather fantastical, in 1842, the poem became a
flawless masterpiece,--one of the eternal possessions of song.

On the other hand, the opening of The Dream of Fair Women was marred
in 1833 by the grotesque introductory verses about "a man that sails
in a balloon." Young as Tennyson was, these freakish passages are a
psychological marvel in the work of one who did not lack the saving
sense of humour. The poet, wafted on the wing and "pinion that the
Theban eagle bear," cannot conceivably be likened to an aeronaut
waving flags out of a balloon--except in a spirit of self-mockery
which was not Tennyson's. His remarkable self-discipline in excising
the fantastic and superfluous, and reducing his work to its classical
perfection of thought and form, is nowhere more remarkable than in
this magnificent vision. It is probably by mere accidental
coincidence of thought that, in the verses To J. S. (James Spedding),
Tennyson reproduces the noble speech on the warrior's death which Sir
Walter Scott places in the lips of the great Dundee: "It is the
memory which the soldier leaves behind him, like the long train of
light that follows the sunken sun, THAT is all that is worth caring
for," the light which lingers eternally on the hills of Atholl.
Tennyson's lines are a close parallel:-

"His memory long will live alone
In all our hearts, as mournful light
That broods above the fallen sun,
And dwells in heaven half the night."

Though Tennyson disliked the exhibition of "the chips of the
workshop," we have commented on them, on the early readings of the
early volumes. They may be regarded more properly as the sketches of
a master than as "chips," and do more than merely engage the idle
curiosity of the fanatics of first editions. They prove that the
poet was studious of perfection, and wisely studious, for his
alterations, unlike those of some authors, were almost invariably for
the better, the saner, the more mature in taste. The early readings
are also worth notice, because they partially explain, by their
occasionally fantastic and humourless character, the lack of early
and general recognition of the poet's genius. The native prejudice
of mankind is not in favour of a new poet. Of new poets there are
always so many, most of them bad, that nature has protected mankind
by an armour of suspiciousness. The world, and Lockhart, easily
found good reasons for distrusting this new claimant of the ivy and
the bays: moreover, since about 1814 there had been a reaction
against new poetry. The market was glutted. Scott had set everybody
on reading, and too many on writing, novels. The great reaction of
the century against all forms of literature except prose fiction had
begun. Near the very date of Tennyson's first volume Bulwer Lytton,
as we saw, had frankly explained that he wrote novels because nobody
would look at anything else. Tennyson had to overcome this
universal, or all but universal, indifference to new poetry, and,
after being silent for ten years, overcome it he did--a remarkable
victory of art and of patient courage. Times were even worse for
poets than to-day. Three hundred copies of the new volume were sold!
But Tennyson's friends were not puffers in league with pushing

Meanwhile the poet in 1833 went on quietly and undefeated with his
work. He composed The Gardener's Daughter, and was at work on the
Morte d'Arthur, suppressed till the ninth year, on the Horatian plan.
Many poems were produced (and even written out, which a number of his
pieces never were), and were left in manuscript till they appeared in
the Biography. Most of these are so little worthy of the author that
the marvel is how he came to write them--in what uninspired hours.
Unlike Wordsworth, he could weed the tares from his wheat. His
studies were in Greek, German, Italian, history (a little), and
chemistry, botany, and electricity--"cross-grained Muses," these

It was on September 15, 1833, that Arthur Hallam died. Unheralded by
sign or symptom of disease as it was, the news fell like a
thunderbolt from a serene sky. Tennyson's and Hallam's love had been
"passing the love of women." A blow like this drives a man on the
rocks of the ultimate, the insoluble problems of destiny. "Is this
the end?" Nourished as on the milk of lions, on the elevating and
strengthening doctrines of popular science, trained from childhood to
forego hope and attend evening lectures, the young critics of our
generation find Tennyson a weakling because he had hopes and fears
concerning the ultimate renewal of what was more than half his life--
his friendship.

"That faith I fain would keep,
That hope I'll not forego:
Eternal be the sleep -
Unless to waken so,"

wrote Lockhart, and the verses echoed ceaselessly in the widowed
heart of Carlyle. These men, it is part of the duty of critics later
born to remember, were not children or cowards, though they dreamed,
and hoped, and feared. We ought to make allowance for failings
incident to an age not yet fully enlightened by popular science, and
still undivorced from spiritual ideas that are as old as the human
race, and perhaps not likely to perish while that race exists. Now
and then even scientific men have been mistaken, especially when they
have declined to examine evidence, as in this problem of the
transcendental nature of the human spirit they usually do. At all
events Tennyson was unconvinced that death is the end, and shortly
after the fatal tidings arrived from Vienna he began to write
fragments in verse preluding to the poem of In Memoriam. He also
began, in a mood of great misery, The Two Voices; or, Thoughts of a
Suicide. The poem seems to have been partly done by September 1834,
when Spedding commented on it, and on the beautiful Sir Galahad,
"intended for something of a male counterpart to St Agnes." The
Morte d'Arthur Tennyson then thought "the best thing I have managed
lately." Very early in 1835 many stanzas of In Memoriam had taken
form. "I do not wish to be dragged forward in any shape before the
reading public at present," wrote the poet, when he heard that Mill
desired to write on him. His OEnone he had brought to its new
perfection, and did not desire comments on work now several years
old. He also wrote his Ulysses and his Tithonus.

If ever the term "morbid" could have been applied to Tennyson, it
would have been in the years immediately following the death of
Arthur Hallam. But the application would have been unjust. True,
the poet was living out of the world; he was unhappy, and he was, as
people say, "doing nothing." He was so poor that he sold his
Chancellor's prize gold medal, and he did not

"Scan his whole horizon
In quest of what he could clap eyes on,"

in the way of money-making, which another poet describes as the
normal attitude of all men as well as of pirates. A careless
observer would have thought that the poet was dawdling. But he dwelt
in no Castle of Indolence; he studied, he composed, he corrected his
verses: like Sir Walter in Liddesdale, "he was making himsel' a' the
time." He did not neglect the movements of the great world in that
dawn of discontent with the philosophy of commercialism. But it was
not his vocation to plunge into the fray, and on to platforms.

It is a very rare thing anywhere, especially in England, for a man
deliberately to choose poetry as the duty of his life, and to remain
loyal, as a consequence, to the bride of St Francis--Poverty. This
loyalty Tennyson maintained, even under the temptation to make money
in recognised ways presented by his new-born love for his future
wife, Miss Emily Sellwood. They had first met in 1830, when she, a
girl of seventeen, seemed to him like "a Dryad or an Oread wandering
here." But admiration became the affection of a lifetime when
Tennyson met Miss Sellwood as bridesmaid to her sister, the bride of
his brother Charles, in 1836. The poet could not afford to marry,
and, like the hero of Locksley Hall, he may have asked himself, "What
is that which I should do?" By 1840 he had done nothing tangible and
lucrative, and correspondence between the lovers was forbidden. That
neither dreamed of Tennyson's deserting poetry for a more normal
profession proved of great benefit to the world. The course is one
which could only be justified by the absolute certainty of possessing

CHAPTER III.--1837-1842.

In 1837 the Tennysons left the old rectory; till 1840 they lived at
High Beech in Epping Forest, and after a brief stay at Tunbridge
Wells went to Boxley, near Maidstone.

It appears that at last the poet had "beat his music out," though his
friends "still tried to cheer him." But the man who wrote Ulysses
when his grief was fresh could not be suspected of declining into a
hypochondriac. "If I mean to make my mark at all, it must be by
shortness," he said at this time; "for the men before me had been so
diffuse, and most of the big things, except King Arthur, had been
done." The age had not la tete epique: Poe had announced the
paradox that there is no such thing as a long poem, and even in
dealing with Arthur, Tennyson followed the example of Theocritus in
writing, not an epic, but epic idylls. Long poems suit an age of
listeners, for which they were originally composed, or of leisure and
few books. At present epics are read for duty's sake, not for the
only valid reason, "for human pleasure," in FitzGerald's phrase.

Between 1838 and 1840 Tennyson made some brief tours in England with
FitzGerald, and, coming from Coventry, wrote Godiva. His engagement
with Miss Sellwood seemed to be adjourned sine die, as they were
forbidden to correspond.

By 1841 Tennyson was living at Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast;
working at his volumes of 1842, much urged by FitzGerald and American
admirers, who had heard of the poet through Emerson. Moxon was to be
the publisher, himself something of a poet; but early in 1842 he had
not yet received the MS. Perhaps Emerson heard of Tennyson through
Carlyle, who, says Sterling, "said more in your praise than in any
one's except Cromwell, and an American backwoodsman who has killed
thirty or forty people with a bowie-knife." Carlyle at this time was
much attached to Lockhart, editor of the Quarterly Review, and it may
have been Carlyle who converted Lockhart to admiration of his old
victim. Carlyle had very little more appreciation of Keats than had
Byron, or (in early days) Lockhart, and it was probably as much the
man of heroic physical mould, "a life-guardsman spoilt by making
poetry," and the unaffected companion over a pipe, as the poet, that
attracted him in Tennyson. As we saw, when the two triumphant
volumes of 1842 did appear, Lockhart asked Sterling to review
whatever book he pleased (meaning the Poems) in the Quarterly. The
praise of Sterling may seem lukewarm to us, especially when compared
with that of Spedding in the Edinburgh. But Sterling, and Lockhart
too, were obliged to "gang warily." Lockhart had, to his constant
annoyance, "a partner, Mr Croker," and I have heard from the late
Dean Boyle that Mr Croker was much annoyed by even the mild applause
yielded in the Quarterly to the author of the Morte d'Arthur.

While preparing the volumes of 1842 at Boxley, Tennyson's life was
divided between London and the society of his brother-in-law, Mr
Edmund Lushington, the great Greek scholar and Professor of Greek at
Glasgow University. There was in Mr Lushington's personal aspect,
and noble simplicity of manner and character, something that strongly
resembled Tennyson himself. Among their common friends were Lord
Houghton (Monckton Milnes), Mr Lear of the Book of Nonsense ("with
such a pencil, such a pen"), Mr Venables (who at school modified the
profile of Thackeray), and Lord Kelvin. In town Tennyson met his
friends at The Cock, which he rendered classic; among them were
Thackeray, Forster, Maclise, and Dickens. The times were stirring:
social agitation, and "Carol philosophy" in Dickens, with growls from
Carlyle, marked the period. There was also a kind of optimism in the
air, a prophetic optimism, not yet fulfilled.

"Fly, happy happy sails, and bear the Press!"

That mission no longer strikes us as exquisitely felicitous. "The
mission of the Cross," and of the missionaries, means international
complications; and "the markets of the Golden Year" are precisely the
most fruitful causes of wars and rumours of wars:-

"Sea and air are dark
With great contrivances of Power."

Tennyson's was not an unmitigated optimism, and had no special
confidence in

"The herd, wild hearts and feeble wings
That every sophister can lime."

His political poetry, in fact, was very unlike the socialist chants
of Mr William Morris, or Songs before Sunrise. He had nothing to say

"The blood on the hands of the King,
And the lie on the lips of the Priest."

The hands of Presidents have not always been unstained; nor are
statements of a mythical nature confined to the lips of the clergy.
The poet was anxious that freedom should "broaden down," but
"slowly," not with indelicate haste. Persons who are more in a hurry
will never care for the political poems, and it is certain that
Tennyson did not feel sympathetically inclined towards the Iberian
patriot who said that his darling desire was "to cut the throats of
all the cures," like some Covenanters of old. "Mais vous connaissez
mon coeur"--"and a pretty black one it is," thought young Tennyson.
So cautious in youth, during his Pyrenean tour with Hallam in 1830,
Tennyson could not become a convinced revolutionary later. We must
accept him with his limitations: nor must we confuse him with the
hero of his Locksley Hall, one of the most popular, and most
parodied, of the poems of 1842: full of beautiful images and
"confusions of a wasted youth," a youth dramatically conceived, and
in no way autobiographical.

In so marvellous a treasure of precious things as the volumes of
1842, perhaps none is more splendid, perfect, and perdurable than the
Morte d'Arthur. It had been written seven years earlier, and
pronounced by the poet "not bad." Tennyson was never, perhaps, a
very deep Arthurian student. A little cheap copy of Malory was his
companion. {4} He does not appear to have gone deeply into the
French and German "literature of the subject." Malory's compilation
(1485) from French and English sources, with the Mabinogion of Lady
Charlotte Guest, sufficed for him as materials. The whole poem,
enshrined in the memory of all lovers of verse, is richly studded, as
the hilt of Excalibur, with classical memories. "A faint Homeric
echo" it is not, nor a Virgilian echo, but the absolute voice of old
romance, a thing that might have been chanted by

"The lonely maiden of the Lake"


"Nine years she wrought it, sitting in the deeps,
Upon the hidden bases of the hills."

Perhaps the most exquisite adaptation of all are the lines from the
Odyssey -

"Where falls not hail nor rain, nor any snow."

"Softly through the flutes of the Grecians" came first these Elysian
numbers, then through Lucretius, then through Tennyson's own
Lucretius, then in Mr Swinburne's Atalanta in Calydon:-

"Lands indiscoverable in the unheard-of west
Round which the strong stream of a sacred sea
Rolls without wind for ever, and the snow
There shows not her white wings and windy feet,
Nor thunder nor swift rain saith anything,
Nor the sun burns, but all things rest and thrive."

So fortunate in their transmission through poets have been the lines
of "the Ionian father of the rest," the greatest of them all.

In the variety of excellences which marks Tennyson, the new English
idylls of 1842 hold their prominent place. Nothing can be more
exquisite and more English than the picture of "the garden that I
love." Theocritus cannot be surpassed; but the idyll matches to the
seventh of his, where it is most closely followed, and possesses such
a picture of a girl as the Sicilian never tried to paint.

Dora is another idyll, resembling the work of a Wordsworth in a clime
softer than that of the Fells. The lays of Edwin Morris and Edward
Bull are not among the more enduring of even the playful poems. The
St Simeon Stylites appears "made to the hand" of the author of Men
and Women rather than of Tennyson. The grotesque vanity of the
anchorite is so remote from us, that we can scarcely judge of the
truth of the picture, though the East has still her parallels to St
Simeon. From the almost, perhaps quite, incredible ascetic the poet
lightly turns to "society verse" lifted up into the air of poetry, in
the charm of The Talking Oak, and the happy flitting sketches of
actual history; and thence to the strength and passion of Love and
Duty. Shall

"Sin itself be found
The cloudy porch oft opening on the Sun?"

That this is the province of sin is a pretty popular modern moral.
But Honour is the better part, and here was a poet who had the
courage to say so; though, to be sure, the words ring strange in an
age when highly respectable matrons assure us that "passion," like
charity, covers a multitude of sins. Love and Duty, we must admit,
is "early Victorian."

The Ulysses is almost a rival to the Morte d'Arthur. It is of an
early date, after Arthur Hallam's death, and Thackeray speaks of the
poet chanting his

"Great Achilles whom we knew,"

as if he thought that this was in Cambridge days. But it is later
than these. Tennyson said, "Ulysses was written soon after Arthur
Hallam's death, and gave my feeling about the need of going forward,
and braving the struggle of life, perhaps more simply than anything
in In Memoriam." Assuredly the expression is more simple, and more
noble, and the personal emotion more dignified for the classic veil.
When the plaintive Pessimist ("'proud of the title,' as the Living
Skeleton said when they showed him") tells us that "not to have been
born is best," we may answer with Ulysses -

"Life piled on life
Were all too little."

The Ulysses of Tennyson, of course, is Dante's Ulysses, not Homer's
Odysseus, who brought home to Ithaca not one of his mariners. His
last known adventure, the journey to the land of men who knew not the
savour of salt, Odysseus was to make on foot and alone; so spake the
ghost of Tiresias within the poplar pale of Persephone.

The Two Voices expresses the contest of doubts and griefs with the
spirit of endurance and joy which speaks alone in Ulysses. The man
who is unhappy, but does not want to put an end to himself, has
certainly the better of the argument with the despairing Voice. The
arguments of "that barren Voice" are, indeed, remarkably deficient in
cogency and logic, if we can bring ourselves to strip the discussion
of its poetry. The original title, Thoughts of a Suicide, was
inappropriate. The suicidal suggestions are promptly faced and
confuted, and the mood of the author is throughout that of one who
thinks life worth living:-

"Whatever crazy sorrow saith,
No life that breathes with human breath
Has ever truly long'd for death.

'Tis life whereof our nerves are scant,
Oh life, not death, for which we pant;
More life, and fuller, that I want."

This appears to be a satisfactory reply to the persons who eke out a
livelihood by publishing pessimistic books, and hooting, as the great
Alexandre Dumas says, at the great drama of Life.

With The Day-Dream (of The Sleeping Beauty) Tennyson again displays
his matchless range of powers. Verse of Society rises into a charmed
and musical fantasy, passing from the Berlin-wool work of the period

("Take the broidery frame, and add
A crimson to the quaint Macaw")

into the enchanted land of the fable: princes immortal, princesses
eternally young and fair. The St Agnes and Sir Galahad, companion
pieces, contain the romance, as St Simeon Stylites shows the
repulsive side of asceticism; for the saint and the knight are young,
beautiful, and eager as St Theresa in her childhood. It has been
said, I do not know on what authority, that the poet had no
recollection of composing Sir Galahad, any more than Scott remembered
composing The Bride of Lammermoor, or Thackeray parts of Pendennis.
The haunting of Tennyson's mind by the Arthurian legends prompted
also the lovely fragment on the Queen's last Maying, Sir Launcelot
and Queen Guinevere, a thing of perfect charm and music. The ballads
of Lady Clare and The Lord of Burleigh are not examples of the poet
in his strength; for his power and fantasy we must turn to The Vision
of Sin, where the early passages have the languid voluptuous music of
The Lotos-Eaters, with the ethical element superadded, while the
portion beginning -

"Wrinkled ostler, grim and thin

is in parts reminiscent of Burns's Jolly Beggars. In Break, Break,
Break, we hear a note prelusive to In Memoriam, much of which was
already composed.

The Poems of 1842 are always vocal in the memories of all readers of
English verse. None are more familiar, at least to men of the
generations which immediately followed Tennyson's. FitzGerald was
apt to think that the poet never again attained the same level, and I
venture to suppose that he never rose above it. For FitzGerald's
opinion, right or wrong, it is easy to account. He had seen all the
pieces in manuscript; they were his cherished possession before the
world knew them. C'est mon homme, he might have said of Tennyson, as
Boileau said of Moliere. Before the public awoke FitzGerald had
"discovered Tennyson," and that at the age most open to poetry and
most enthusiastic in friendship. Again, the Poems of 1842 were
SHORT, while The Princess, Maud, and The Idylls of the King were
relatively long, and, with In Memoriam, possessed unity of subject.
They lacked the rich, the unexampled variety of topic, treatment, and
theme which marks the Poems of 1842. These were all reasons why
FitzGerald should think that the two slim green volumes held the
poet's work at its highest level. Perhaps he was not wrong, after


The Poems, and such criticisms as those of Spedding and Sterling,
gave Tennyson his place. All the world of letters heard of him.
Dean Bradley tells us how he took Oxford by storm in the days of the
undergraduateship of Clough and Matthew Arnold. Probably both of
these young writers did not share the undergraduate enthusiasm. Mr
Arnold, we know, did not reckon Tennyson un esprit puissant. Like
Wordsworth (who thought Tennyson "decidedly the first of our living
poets, . . . he has expressed in the strongest terms his gratitude to
my writings"), Arnold was no fervent admirer of his contemporaries.
Besides, if Tennyson's work is "a criticism of Life," the moral
criticism, so far, was hidden in flowers, like the sword of
Aristogiton at the feast. But, on the whole, Tennyson had won the
young men who cared for poetry, though Sir Robert Peel had never
heard of him: and to win the young, as Theocritus desired to do, is
more than half the battle. On September 8, 1842, the poet was able
to tell Mr Lushington that "500 of my books are sold; according to
Moxon's brother, I have made a sensation." The sales were not like
those of Childe Harold or Marmion; but for some twenty years new
poetry had not sold at all. Novels had come in about 1814, and few
wanted or bought recent verse. But Carlyle was converted. He spoke
no more of a spoiled guardsman. "If you knew what my relation has
been to the thing called 'English Poetry' for many years back, you
would think such a fact" (his pleasure in the book) "surprising."
Carlyle had been living (as Mrs Carlyle too well knew) in Oliver
Cromwell, a hero who probably took no delight in Lycidas or Comus, in
Lovelace or Carew. "I would give all my poetry to have made one song
like that," said Tennyson of Lovelace's Althea. But Noll would have
disregarded them all alike, and Carlyle was full of the spirit of the
Protector. To conquer him was indeed a victory for Tennyson; while
Dickens, not a reading man, expressed his "earnest and sincere

But Tennyson was not successful in the modern way. Nobody
"interviewed" him. His photograph, of course, with disquisitions on
his pipes and slippers, did not adorn the literary press. His
literary income was not magnified by penny-a-liners. He did not
become a lion; he never would roar and shake his mane in drawing-
rooms. Lockhart held that Society was the most agreeable form of the
stage: the dresses and actresses incomparably the prettiest. But
Tennyson liked Society no better than did General Gordon. He had
friends enough, and no desire for new acquaintances. Indeed, his
fortune was shattered at this time by a strange investment in wood-
carving by machinery. Ruskin had only just begun to write, and wood-
carving by machinery was still deemed an enterprise at once
philanthropic and aesthetic. "My father's worldly goods were all
gone," says Lord Tennyson. The poet's health suffered extremely: he
tried a fashionable "cure" at Cheltenham, where he saw miracles of
healing, but underwent none. In September 1845 Peel was moved by
Lord Houghton to recommend the poet for a pension (200 pounds
annually). "I have done nothing slavish to get it: I never even
solicited for it either by myself or others." Like Dr Johnson, he
honourably accepted what was offered in honour. For some reason many
persons who write in the press are always maddened when such good
fortune, however small, however well merited, falls to a brother in
letters. They, of course, were "causelessly bitter." "Let them

If few of the rewards of literary success arrived, the penalties at
once began, and only ceased with the poet's existence. "If you only
knew what a nuisance these volumes of verse are! Rascals send me
theirs per post from America, and I have more than once been knocked
up out of bed to pay three or four shillings for books of which I
can't get through one page, for of all books the most insipid reading
is second-rate verse."

Would that versifiers took the warning! Tennyson had not sent his
little firstlings to Coleridge and Wordsworth: they are only the
hopeless rhymers who bombard men of letters with their lyrics and

Mr Browning was a sufferer. To one young twitterer he replied in the
usual way. The bard wrote acknowledging the letter, but asking for a
definite criticism. "I do not think myself a Shakespeare or a
Milton, but I KNOW I am better than Mr Coventry Patmore or Mr Austin
Dobson." Mr Browning tried to procrastinate: he was already deeply
engaged with earlier arrivals of volumes of song. The poet was hurt,
not angry; he had expected other things from Mr Browning: HE ought
to know his duty to youth. At the intercession of a relation Mr
Browning now did his best, and the minstrel, satisfied at last,
repeated his conviction of his superiority to the authors of The
Angel in the House and Beau Brocade. Probably no man, not even Mr
Gladstone, ever suffered so much from minstrels as Tennyson. He did
not suffer them gladly.

In 1846 the Poems reached their fourth edition. Sir Edward Bulwer
Lytton (bitten by what fly who knows?) attacked Tennyson in The New
Timon, a forgotten satire. We do not understand the ways of that
generation. The cheap and spiteful genre of satire, its forged
morality, its sham indignation, its appeal to the ape-like passions,
has gone out. Lytton had suffered many things (not in verse) from
Jeames Yellowplush: I do not know that he hit back at Thackeray, but
he "passed it on" to Thackeray's old college companion. Tennyson,
for once, replied (in Punch: the verses were sent thither by John
Forster); the answer was one of magnificent contempt. But he soon
decided that

"The noblest answer unto such
Is perfect stillness when they brawl."

Long afterwards the poet dedicated a work to the son of Lord Lytton.
He replied to no more satirists. {5} Our difficulty, of course, is
to conceive such an attack coming from a man of Lytton's position and
genius. He was no hungry hack, and could, and did, do infinitely
better things than "stand in a false following" of Pope. Probably
Lytton had a false idea that Tennyson was a rich man, a branch of his
family being affluent, and so resented the little pension. The poet
was so far from rich in 1846, and even after the publication of The
Princess, that his marriage had still to be deferred for four years.

On reading The Princess afresh one is impressed, despite old
familiarity, with the extraordinary influence of its beauty. Here
are, indeed, the best words best placed, and that curious felicity of
style which makes every line a marvel, and an eternal possession. It
is as if Tennyson had taken the advice which Keats gave to Shelley,
"Load every rift with ore." To choose but one or two examples, how
the purest and freshest impression of nature is re-created in mind
and memory by the picture of Melissa with

"All her thoughts as fair within her eyes,
As bottom agates seen to wave and float
In crystal currents of clear morning seas."

The lyric, "Tears, idle tears," is far beyond praise: once read it
seems like a thing that has always existed in the world of poetic
archetypes, and has now been not so much composed as discovered and
revealed. The many pictures and similitudes in The Princess have a
magical gorgeousness:-

"From the illumined hall
Long lanes of splendour slanted o'er a press
Of snowy shoulders, thick as herded ewes,
And rainbow robes, and gems and gem-like eyes,
And gold and golden heads; they to and fro
Fluctuated, as flowers in storm, some red, some pale."

The "small sweet Idyll" from

"A volume of the poets of her land"

pure Theocritus. It has been admirably rendered into Greek by Mr
Gilbert Murray. The exquisite beauties of style are not less
exquisitely blended in the confusions of a dream, for a dream is the
thing most akin to The Princess. Time does not exist in the realm of
Gama, or in the ideal university of Ida. We have a bookless North,
severed but by a frontier pillar from a golden and learned South.
The arts, from architecture to miniature-painting, are in their
highest perfection, while knights still tourney in armour, and the
quarrel of two nations is decided as in the gentle and joyous passage
of arms at Ashby de la Zouche. Such confusions are purposefully
dream-like: the vision being a composite thing, as dreams are,
haunted by the modern scene of the holiday in the park, the "gallant
glorious chronicle," the Abbey, and that "old crusading knight
austere," Sir Ralph. The seven narrators of the scheme are like the
"split personalities" of dreams, and the whole scheme is of great
technical skill. The earlier editions lacked the beautiful songs of
the ladies, and that additional trait of dream, the strange trance-
like seizures of the Prince: "fallings from us, vanishings," in
Wordsworthian phrase; instances of "dissociation," in modern
psychological terminology. Tennyson himself, like Shelley and
Wordsworth, had experience of this kind of dreaming awake which he
attributes to his Prince, to strengthen the shadowy yet brilliant
character of his romance. It is a thing of normal and natural points
de repere; of daylight suggestion, touched as with the magnifying and
intensifying elements of haschish-begotten phantasmagoria. In the
same way opium raised into the region of brilliant vision that
passage of Purchas which Coleridge was reading before he dreamed
Kubla Khan. But in Tennyson the effects were deliberately sought and

One might conjecture, though Lord Tennyson says nothing on the
subject, that among the suggestions for The Princess was the opening
of Love's Labour's Lost. Here the King of Navarre devises the
College of Recluses, which is broken up by the arrival of the
Princess of France, Rosaline, and the other ladies:-

King. Our Court shall be a little Academe,
Still and contemplative in living art.
You three, Biron, Domain, and Longaville,
Have sworn for three years' term to live with me,
My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes.
* * *
Biron. That is, to live and study here three years.
But there are other strict observances;
As, not to see a woman in that term.
* * *
[Reads] 'That no woman shalt come within a mile of my Court:' Hath
this been proclaimed?
Long. Four days ago.
Biron. Let's see the penalty. [Reads] 'On pain of losing her

The Princess then arrives with her ladies, as the Prince does with
Cyril and Florian, as Charles did, with Buckingham, in Spain. The
conclusion of Shakespeare is Tennyson's conclusion -

"We cannot cross the cause why we are born."

The later poet reverses the attitude of the sexes in Love's Labour's
Lost: it is the women who make and break the vow; and the women in
The Princess insist on the "grand, epic, homicidal" scenes, while the
men are debarred, more or less, from a sportive treatment of the
subject. The tavern catch of Cyril; the laughable pursuit of the
Prince by the feminine Proctors; the draggled appearance of the
adventurers in female garb, are concessions to the humour of the
situation. Shakespeare would certainly have given us the song of
Cyril at the picnic, and comic enough the effect would have been on
the stage. It may be a gross employment, but The Princess, with the
pretty chorus of girl undergraduates,

"In colours gayer than the morning mist,"

went reasonably well in opera. Merely considered as a romantic
fiction, The Princess presents higher proofs of original narrative
genius than any other such attempt by its author.

The poem is far from being deficient in that human interest which
Shelley said that it was as vain to ask from HIM, as to seek to buy a
leg of mutton at a gin-shop. The characters, the protagonists, with
Cyril, Melissa, Lady Blanche, the child Aglaia, King Gama, the other
king, Arac, and the hero's mother--beautifully studied from the
mother of the poet--are all sufficiently human. But they seem to
waver in the magic air, "as all the golden autumn woodland reels
athwart the fires of autumn leaves. For these reasons, and because
of the designed fantasy of the whole composition, The Princess is
essentially a poem for the true lovers of poetry, of Spenser and of
Coleridge. The serious motive, the question of Woman, her wrongs,
her rights, her education, her capabilities, was not "in the air" in
1847. To be sure it had often been "in the air." The Alexandrian
Platonists, the Renaissance, even the age of Anne, had their
emancipated and learned ladies. Early Greece had Sappho, Corinna,
and Erinna, the first the chief of lyric poets, even in her
fragments, the two others applauded by all Hellas. The French
Revolution had begotten Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her
Vindication of the Rights of Women, and in France George Sand was
prominent and emancipated enough while the poet wrote. But, the
question of love apart, George Sand was "very, very woman," shining
as a domestic character and fond of needlework. England was not
excited about the question which has since produced so many
disputants, inevitably shrill, and has not been greatly meddled with
by women of genius, George Eliot or Mrs Oliphant. The poem, in the
public indifference as to feminine education, came rather
prematurely. We have now ladies' colleges, not in haunts remote from
man, but by the sedged banks of Cam and Cherwell. There have been no
revolutionary results: no boys have spied these chaste nests, with
echoing romantic consequences. The beauty and splendour of the
Princess's university have not arisen in light and colour, and it is
only at St Andrews that girls wear the academic and becoming costume
of the scarlet gown. The real is far below the ideal, but the real
in 1847 seemed eminently remote, or even impossible.

The learned Princess herself was not on our level as to knowledge and
the past of womankind. She knew not of their masterly position in
the law of ancient Egypt. Gynaeocracy and matriarchy, the woman the
head of the savage or prehistoric group, were things hidden from her.
She "glanced at the Lycian custom," but not at the Pictish, a custom
which would have suited George Sand to a marvel. She maligned the

"The highest is the measure of the man,
And not the Kaffir, Hottentot, Malay."

The Hottentots had long ago anticipated the Princess and her shrill
modern sisterhood. If we take the Greeks, or even ourselves, we may
say, with Dampier (1689), "The Hodmadods, though a nasty people, yet
are gentlemen to these" as regards the position of women. Let us
hear Mr Hartland: "In every Hottentot's house the wife is supreme.
Her husband, poor fellow, though he may wield wide power and
influence out of doors, at home dare not even take a mouthful of
sour-milk out of the household vat without her permission . . . The
highest oath a man can take is to swear by his eldest sister, and if
he abuses this name he forfeits to her his finest goods and sheep."

However, in 1847 England had not yet thought of imitating the
Hodmadods. Consequently, and by reason of the purely literary and
elaborately fantastical character of The Princess, it was not of a
nature to increase the poet's fame and success. "My book is out, and
I hate it, and so no doubt will you," Tennyson wrote to FitzGerald,
who hated it and said so. "Like Carlyle, I gave up all hopes of him
after The Princess," indeed it was not apt to conciliate Carlyle.
"None of the songs had the old champagne flavour," said Fitz; and
Lord Tennyson adds, "Nothing either by Thackeray or by my father met
FitzGerald's approbation unless he had first seen it in manuscript."
This prejudice was very human. Lord Tennyson remarks, as to the
poet's meaning in this work, born too early, that "the sooner woman
finds out, before the great educational movement begins, that 'woman
is not undeveloped man, but diverse,' the better it will be for the
progress of the world."

But probably the "educational movement" will not make much difference
to womankind on the whole. The old Platonic remark that woman "does
the same things as man, but not so well," will eternally hold good,
at least in the arts, and in letters, except in rare cases of genius.
A new Jeanne d'Arc, the most signal example of absolute genius in
history, will not come again; and the ages have waited vainly for a
new Sappho or a new Jane Austen. Literature, poetry, painting, have
always been fields open to woman. But two names exhaust the roll of
women of the highest rank in letters--Sappho and Jane Austen. And
"when did woman ever yet invent?" In "arts of government" Elizabeth
had courage, and just saving sense enough to yield to Cecil at the
eleventh hour, and escape the fate of "her sister and her foe," the
beautiful unhappy queen who told her ladies that she dared to look on
whatever men dared to do, and herself would do it if her strength so
served her." {6} "The foundress of the Babylonian walls" is a myth;
"the Rhodope that built the Pyramid" is not a creditable myth; for
exceptions to Knox's "Monstrous Regiment of Women" we must fall back
on "The Palmyrene that fought Aurelian," and the revered name of the
greatest of English queens, Victoria. Thus history does not
encourage the hope that a man-like education will raise many women to
the level of the highest of their sex in the past, or even that the
enormous majority of women will take advantage of the opportunity of
a man-like education. A glance at the numerous periodicals designed
for the reading of women depresses optimism, and the Princess's
prophecy of

"Two plummets dropped for one to sound the abyss
Of science, and the secrets of the mind,"

is not near fulfilment. Fortunately the sex does not "love the
Metaphysics," and perhaps has not yet produced even a manual of
Logic. It must suffice man and woman to

"Walk this world
Yoked in all exercise of noble end,"

of a more practical character, while woman is at liberty

"To live and learn and be
All that not harms distinctive womanhood."

This was the conclusion of the poet who had the most chivalrous
reverence for womanhood. This is the eirenicon of that old strife
between the women and the men--that war in which both armies are
captured. It may not be acceptable to excited lady combatants, who
think man their foe, when the real enemy is (what Porson damned) the
Nature of Things.

A new poem like The Princess would soon reach the public of our day,
so greatly increased are the uses of advertisement. But The Princess
moved slowly from edition to revised and improved edition, bringing
neither money nor much increase of fame. The poet was living with
his family at Cheltenham, where among his new acquaintances were
Sydney Dobell, the poet of a few exquisite pieces, and F. W.
Robertson, later so popular as a preacher at Brighton. Meeting him
for the first time, and knowing Robertson's "wish to pluck the heart
from my mystery, from pure nervousness I would only talk of beer."
This kind of shyness beset Tennyson. A lady tells me that as a girl
(and a very beautiful girl) she and her sister, and a third, nec
diversa, met the poet, and expected high discourse. But his speech
was all of that wingless insect which "gets there, all the same,"
according to an American lyrist; the insect which fills Mrs Carlyle's
letters with bulletins of her success or failure in domestic

Tennyson kept visiting London, where he saw Thackeray and the despair
of Carlyle, and at Bath House he was too modest to be introduced to
the great Duke whose requiem he was to sing so nobly. Oddly enough
Douglas Jerrold enthusiastically assured Tennyson, at a dinner of a
Society of Authors, that "you are the one who will live." To that
end, humanly speaking, he placed himself under the celebrated Dr
Gully and his "water-cure," a foible of that period. In 1848 he made
a tour to King Arthur's Cornish bounds, and another to Scotland,
where the Pass of Brander disappointed him: perhaps he saw it on a
fine day, and, like Glencoe, it needs tempest and mist lit up by the
white fires of many waterfalls. By bonny Doon he "fell into a
passion of tears," for he had all of Keats's sentiment for Burns:
"There never was immortal poet if he be not one." Of all English
poets, the warmest in the praise of Burns have been the two most
unlike himself--Tennyson and Keats. It was the songs that Tennyson
preferred; Wordsworth liked the Cottar's Saturday Night.


In May 1850 a few, copies of In Memoriam were printed for friends,
and presently the poem was published without author's name. The
pieces had been composed at intervals, from 1833 onwards. It is to
be observed that the "section about evolution" was written some years
before 1844, when the ingenious hypotheses of Robert Chambers, in
Vestiges of Creation, were given to the world, and caused a good deal
of talk. Ten years, again, after In Memoriam, came Darwin's Origin
of Species. These dates are worth observing. The theory of
evolution, of course in a rude mythical shape, is at least as old as
the theory of creation, and is found among the speculations of the
most backward savages. The Arunta of Central Australia, a race
remote from the polite, have a hypothesis of evolution which
postulates only a few rudimentary forms of life, a marine
environment, and the minimum of supernormal assistance in the way of
stimulating the primal forms in the direction of more highly
differentiated developments. "The rudimentary forms, Inapertwa, were
in reality stages in the transformation of various plants and animals
into human beings. . . . They had no distinct limbs or organs of
sight, hearing, or smell." They existed in a kind of lumps, and were
set free from the cauls which enveloped them by two beings called
Ungambikula, "a word which means 'out of nothing,' or 'self-
existing.' Men descend from lower animals thus evolved." {7}

This example of the doctrine of evolution in an early shape is only
mentioned to prove that the idea has been familiar to the human mind
from the lowest known stage of culture. Not less familiar has been
the theory of creation by a kind of supreme being. The notion of
creation, however, up to 1860, held the foremost place in modern
European belief. But Lamarck, the elder Darwin, Monboddo, and others
had submitted hypotheses of evolution. Now it was part of the
originality of Tennyson, as a philosophic poet, that he had brooded
from boyhood on these early theories of evolution, in an age when
they were practically unknown to the literary, and were not
patronised by the scientific, world. In November 1844 he wrote to Mr
Moxon, "I want you to get me a book which I see advertised in the
Examiner: it seems to contain many speculations with which I have
been familiar for years, and on which I have written more than one
poem." This book was Vestiges of Creation. These poems are the
stanzas in In Memoriam about "the greater ape," and about Nature as
careless of the type: "all shall go." The poetic and philosophic
originality of Tennyson thus faced the popular inferences as to the
effect of the doctrine of evolution upon religious beliefs long
before the world was moved in all its deeps by Darwin's Origin of
Species. Thus the geological record is inconsistent, we learned,
with the record of the first chapters of Genesis. If man is a
differentiated monkey, and if a monkey has no soul, or future life
(which is taken for granted), where are man's title-deeds to these
possessions? With other difficulties of an obvious kind, these
presented themselves to the poet with renewed force when his only
chance of happiness depended on being able to believe in a future
life, and reunion with the beloved dead. Unbelief had always
existed. We hear of atheists in the Rig Veda. In the early
eighteenth century, in the age of Swift -

"Men proved, as sure as God's in Gloucester,
That Moses was a great impostor."

distrust of Moses increased with the increase of hypotheses of
evolution. But what English poet, before Tennyson, ever attempted
"to lay the spectres of the mind"; ever faced world-old problems in
their most recent aspects? I am not acquainted with any poet who
attempted this task, and, whatever we may think of Tennyson's
success, I do not see how we can deny his originality.

Mr Frederic Harrison, however, thinks that neither "the theology nor
the philosophy of In Memoriam are new, original, with an independent
force and depth of their own." "They are exquisitely graceful re-
statements of the theology of the Broad Churchman of the school of F.
D. Maurice and Jowett--a combination of Maurice's somewhat illogical
piety with Jowett's philosophy of mystification." The piety of
Maurice may be as illogical as that of Positivism is logical, and the
philosophy of the Master of Balliol may be whatever Mr Harrison
pleases to call it. But as Jowett's earliest work (except an essay
on Etruscan religion) is of 1855, one does not see how it could
influence Tennyson before 1844. And what had the Duke of Argyll
written on these themes some years before 1844? The late Duke, to
whom Mr Harrison refers in this connection, was born in 1823. His
philosophic ideas, if they were to influence Tennyson's In Memoriam,
must have been set forth by him at the tender age of seventeen, or
thereabouts. Mr Harrison's sentence is, "But does In Memoriam teach
anything, or transfigure any idea which was not about that time" (the
time of writing was mainly 1833-1840) "common form with F. D.
Maurice, with Jowett, C. Kingsley, F. Robertson, Stopford Brooke, Mr
Ruskin, and the Duke of Argyll, Bishops Westcott and Boyd Carpenter?"

The dates answer Mr Harrison. Jowett did not publish anything till
at least fifteen years after Tennyson wrote his poems on evolution
and belief. Dr Boyd Carpenter's works previous to 1840 are unknown
to bibliography. F. W. Robertson was a young parson at Cheltenham.
Ruskin had not published the first volume of Modern Painters. His
Oxford prize poem is of 1839. Mr Stopford Brooke was at school. The
Duke of Argyll was being privately educated: and so with the rest,
except the contemporary Maurice. How can Mr Harrison say that, in
the time of In Memoriam, Tennyson was "in touch with the ideas of
Herschel, Owen, Huxley, Darwin, and Tyndall"? {8} When Tennyson
wrote the parts of In Memoriam which deal with science, nobody beyond
their families and friends had heard of Huxley, Darwin, and Tyndall.
They had not developed, much less had they published, their "general
ideas." Even in his journal of the Cruise of the Beagle Darwin's
ideas were religious, and he naively admired the works of God. It is
strange that Mr Harrison has based his criticism, and his theory of
Tennyson's want of originality, on what seems to be a historical
error. He cites parts of In Memoriam, and remarks, "No one can deny
that all this is exquisitely beautiful; that these eternal problems
have never been clad in such inimitable grace . . . But the train of
thought is essentially that with which ordinary English readers have
been made familiar by F. D. Maurice, Professor Jowett, Ecce Homo,
Hypatia, and now by Arthur Balfour, Mr Drummond, and many valiant
companies of Septem [why Septem?] contra Diabolum." One must keep
repeating the historical verity that the ideas of In Memoriam could
not have been "made familiar by" authors who had not yet published
anything, or by books yet undreamed of and unborn, such as Ecce Homo
and Jowett's work on some of St Paul's Epistles. If these books
contain the ideas of In Memoriam, it is by dint of repetition and
borrowing from In Memoriam, or by coincidence. The originality was
Tennyson's, for we cannot dispute the evidence of dates.

When one speaks of "originality" one does not mean that Tennyson
discovered the existence of the ultimate problems. But at Cambridge
(1828-1830) he had voted "No" in answer to the question discussed by
"the Apostles," "Is an intelligible [intelligent?] First Cause
deducible from the phenomena of the universe?" {9} He had also
propounded the theory that "the development of the human body might
possibly be traced from the radiated vermicular molluscous and
vertebrate organisms," thirty years before Darwin published The
Origin of Species. To be concerned so early with such hypotheses,
and to face, in poetry, the religious or irreligious inferences which
may be drawn from them, decidedly constitutes part of the poetic
originality of Tennyson. His attitude, as a poet, towards religious
doubt is only so far not original, as it is part of the general
reaction from the freethinking of the eighteenth century. Men had
then been freethinkers avec delices. It was a joyous thing to be an
atheist, or something very like one; at all events, it was glorious
to be "emancipated." Many still find it glorious, as we read in the
tone of Mr Huxley, when he triumphs and tramples over pious dukes and
bishops. Shelley said that a certain schoolgirl "would make a dear
little atheist." But by 1828-1830 men were less joyous in their
escape from all that had hitherto consoled and fortified humanity.
Long before he dreamed of In Memoriam, in the Poems chiefly Lyrical
of 1830 Tennyson had written -

"'Yet,' said I, in my morn of youth,
The unsunn'd freshness of my strength,
When I went forth in quest of truth,
'It is man's privilege to doubt.' . . .
Ay me! I fear
All may not doubt, but everywhere
Some must clasp Idols. Yet, my God,
Whom call I Idol? Let Thy dove
Shadow me over, and my sins
Be unremember'd, and Thy love
Enlighten me. Oh teach me yet
Somewhat before the heavy clod
Weighs on me, and the busy fret
Of that sharp-headed worm begins
In the gross blackness underneath.

Oh weary life! oh weary death!
Oh spirit and heart made desolate!
Oh damned vacillating state!"

Now the philosophy of In Memoriam may be, indeed is, regarded by
robust, first-rate, and far from sensitive minds, as a "damned
vacillating state." The poet is not so imbued with the spirit of
popular science as to be sure that he knows everything: knows that
there is nothing but atoms and ether, with no room for God or a soul.
He is far from that happy cock-certainty, and consequently is exposed
to the contempt of the cock-certain. The poem, says Mr Harrison,
"has made Tennyson the idol of the Anglican clergyman--the world in
which he was born and the world in which his life was ideally passed-
-the idol of all cultured youth and of all aesthetic women. It is an
honourable post to fill"--that of idol. "The argument of In Memoriam
apparently is . . . that we should faintly trust the larger hope."
That, I think, is not the argument, not the conclusion of the poem,
but is a casual expression of one mood among many moods.

The argument and conclusion of In Memoriam are the argument and
conclusion of the life of Tennyson, and of the love of Tennyson, that
immortal passion which was a part of himself, and which, if aught of
us endure, is living yet, and must live eternally. From the record
of his Life by his son we know that his trust in "the larger hope"
was not "faint," but strengthened with the years. There are said to
have been less hopeful intervals.

His faith is, of course, no argument for others,--at least it ought
not to be. We are all the creatures of our bias, our environment,
our experience, our emotions. The experience of Tennyson was unlike
the experience of most men. It yielded him subjective grounds for
belief. He "opened a path unto many," like Yama, the Vedic being who
discovered the way to death. But Tennyson's path led not to death,
but to life spiritual, and to hope, and he did "give a new impulse to
the thought of his age," as other great poets have done. Of course
it may be an impulse to wrong thought. As the philosophical
Australian black said, "We shall know when we are dead."

Mr Harrison argues as if, unlike Tennyson, Byron, Wordsworth,
Shelley, and Burns produced "original ideas fresh from their own
spirit, and not derived from contemporary thinkers." I do not know
what original ideas these great poets discovered and promulgated;
their ideas seem to have been "in the air." These poets "made them
current coin." Shelley thought that he owed many of his ideas to
Godwin, a contemporary thinker. Wordsworth has a debt to Plato, a
thinker not contemporary. Burns's democratic independence was "in
the air," and had been, in Scotland, since Elder remarked on it in a
letter to Ingles in 1515. It is not the ideas, it is the expression
of the ideas, that marks the poet. Tennyson's ideas are relatively
novel, though as old as Plotinus, for they are applied to a novel, or
at least an unfamiliar, mental situation. Doubt was abroad, as it
always is; but, for perhaps the first time since Porphyry wrote his
letter to Abammon, the doubters desired to believe, and said, "Lord,
help Thou my unbelief." To robust, not sensitive minds, very much in
unity with themselves, the attitude seems contemptible, or at best
decently futile. Yet I cannot think it below the dignity of mankind,
conscious that it is not omniscient. The poet does fail in logic (In
Memoriam, cxx.) when he says -

"Let him, the wiser man who springs
Hereafter, up from childhood shape
His action like the greater ape,
But I was BORN to other things."

I am not well acquainted with the habits of the greater ape, but it
would probably be unwise, and perhaps indecent, to imitate him, even
if "we also are his offspring." We might as well revert to polyandry
and paint, because our Celtic or Pictish ancestors, if we had any,
practised the one and wore the other. However, petulances like the
verse on the greater ape are rare in In Memoriam. To declare that "I
would not stay" in life if science proves us to be "cunning casts in
clay," is beneath the courage of the Stoical philosophy.

Theologically, the poem represents the struggle with doubts and hopes
and fears, which had been with Tennyson from his boyhood, as is
proved by the volume of 1830. But the doubts had exerted, probably,
but little influence on his happiness till the sudden stroke of loss
made life for a time seem almost unbearable unless the doubts were
solved. They WERE solved, or stoically set aside, in the Ulysses,
written in the freshness of grief, with the conclusion that we must

"Strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

But the gnawing of grief till it becomes a physical pain, the fever
fits of sorrow, the aching desiderium, bring back in many guises the
old questions. These require new attempts at answers, and are
answered, "the sad mechanic exercise" of verse allaying the pain.
This is the genesis of In Memoriam, not originally written for
publication but produced at last as a monument to friendship, and as
a book of consolation.

No books of consolation can console except by sympathy; and in In
Memoriam sympathy and relief have been found, and will be found, by
many. Another, we feel, has trodden our dark and stony path, has
been shadowed by the shapes of dread which haunt our valley of
tribulation: a mind almost infinitely greater than ours has been our
fellow-sufferer. He has emerged from the darkness of the shadow of
death into the light, whither, as it seems to us, we can scarcely
hope to come. It is the sympathy and the example, I think, not the
speculations, mystical or scientific, which make In Memoriam, in more
than name, a book of consolation: even in hours of the sharpest

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