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acquaintance with his poetry, which is worse than no acquaintance at all. In suggestiveness Pope was singularly deficient: his constructive faculty so prevailed, that he left nothing to the reader's fancy, but explained to the end. He had no such moods as those evoked by "Tears, idle tears," and "Break, break, break!" and, therefore, his verses never suggest them. In irony Tennyson would equal Pope, had he not risen above it. The man who wrote "The New Timon and the Poets," and, afterwards rebuked himself for so doing, could write another "Dunciad," or, without resort to any models, a still more polished and bitter satire of his own.
fully sustained the wisdom of Victoria's choice of a successor to
Tennyson's original and fastidious art is of itself a theme for an essay. The poet who studies it may well despair; he never can excel it, and is tempted to a reactionary carelessness, trusting to make his individuality felt thereby. Its strength is that of perfection; its weakness, the over-perfection which marks a still-life painter. Here is the absolute sway of meter, compelling every rhyme and measure needful to the thought; here are sinuous alliterations, unique and varying breaks and pauses, winged flights and falls, the glory of sound and.color-everywhere present, or if missing, absent of the poet's free will. Art so complex was not possible until centuries of literature had passed, and an artist could overlook the field, essay each style, and evolve a metrical result, which should be to that of earlier periods what the music of Meyerbeer and Rossini is to the narrower range of Piccini or Gluck. In Tennyson's artistic conscientiousness, he is the opposite of that compeer who approaches him most nearly in years and strength of intellect, Robert Browning. His gift of language is not so copious as Swinburne's, yet through its use the higher excellence is attained. But I shall write of these matters at another time. Let me conclude my remarks upon the laureate's art with a reference to his unfailing taste and sense of the fitness of things. This is neatly exemplified in the openings, and especially the endings, of his idyls. "Audley Court" very well illustrates what I mean. Observe, also, the beautiful dedication of his collected works to the Queen, and the solemn and faithful character-painting of the tribute to Prince Albert which forms the prelude to the Idyls of the King. The two dedications are equal to the best ever written, and each is a poem by itself. They
"The laurel greener from the brows Of him that uttered nothing base."
Leaving the architecture of Tennyson's poetry and coming to the sentiment which it seeks to express, we are struck at once by the fact that an idyllic, or picturesque, mode of conveying that sentiment is the one natural to this poet, if not the only one permitted by his limitations. In this he surpasses all poets since Theocritus; and his work is greater than the Syracusan's, because his thought and period are greater. His eyes are his purveyors; with "wisdom at their entrance quite shut out " he would be helpless. To use the lingo of the phrenologists, his locality is better than his individuality. He does not, like Browning, catch the secret of a master-passion, nor, like the old dramatists, the very life of action; on the contrary he gives us an ideal picture of an ideal person, but set against a background more tangible than other artists can draw-making the accessories, and even the atmosphere, convey the meaning of his poem. As we study his verse, and the sound and color of it enter our souls, we think with him, we partake of his feeling, and are led to regions which he finds himself unable to open for us except in this suggestive way. The fidelity of his accessories is peculiar to the time: realistic, without the Flemish homeliness; true as Pre-Raphaelitism, but mellowed with the atmosphere of a riper art. This idyllic method is not that of the most inspired poets and the most impassioned periods. But, merely as a descriptive writer, who is so delightful as Tennyson? He has the unerring first touch, which in a single line proves the artist; and it justly has been remarked that there is more true English landscape in many an isolated stanza of "In Memoriam " than in the whole of "The Seasons,"-that vaunted descriptive poem of a former century. A paper has been written upon the Lincolnshire scenery depicted in his poems, and we might have others, just as well, upon his marine or highland views. He is a born observer of physical nature, and, whenever he applies an adjective to some object, or passingly alludes to some phenomenon which others have not noted, is almost infallibly correct. Possibly he does this too methodically, but his opponents cannot deny that his out-door rambles are guided
by their eloquent apostle's "Lamp of Truth."
His limitations are nearly as conspicuous as his abundant gifts. They are indicated, first, by a style pronounced to the degree of mannerism, and, secondly, by no mere disinclination, but positive incapacity, for dramatic work of the genuine kind.
With respect to his style, it may be said that Tennyson,-while objective in the variety of his themes, and in ability to separate his own experience from their development, is the most subjective of poets in the distinguishable flavor of his language and rhythm. Reading him you might not guess his life and story -the reverse of which is true with Byron, whom I take as a familiar example of the subjective in literature; nevertheless, it is impossible to observe a single line, or an entire specimen, of the laureate's poems, without feeling that they are in the handwriting of the same master, or of some disciple who has caught his fascinating and contagious style.
I speak of his second limitation, with a full knowledge that many claim a dramatic crown for the author of "Northern Farmer," "Tithonus," "St. Simeon Stylites" -for the poet of the Round Table and the Holy Grail. But isolated studies are not sufficient: a group of living men and women is necessary to broad dramatic action. Tennyson forces his characters to adapt themselves to preconceived, statuesque ideals of his own. His chief success is with those in humble life; in "Enoch Arden," and elsewhere, he has very sweetly depicted the emotions of simple natures, rarely at a sublime height or depth of passion. He also draws, with an easy touch occasionally found in the prose of the author of "The Warden,"—a group of sturdy, refined, comfortable fellows upon their daily rambles, British and modern in their wholesome talk. But the true dramatist instinctively portrays either exceptional characters, or ordinary beings in impassioned and extraordinary moods. This Tennyson rarely essays to do, except when presenting imaginary heroes of a visioned past. A great master of contemplative, descriptive, or lyrical verse, he falls short in that combination of action and passion which we call dramatic, and often gives us a series of marvelous tableaux in lieu of exalted speech and deeds.
This lack of individuality is somewhat due to the influence of the period; largely,
also, to the habit of solitude which the poet has chosen to indulge. His life has been passed among his books, or in the seclusion of rural haunts; when in town, in the company of a few chosen friends. This has heightened his tendency to revery, and unfitted him to sharply distinguish between men and men. The great novelists of our day, who correspond to the dramatists of a past age, have plunged into the roar of cities and the thick of the crowd, touching people closely and on every side. It must be owned that we do not find in their works that close knowledge of inanimate nature for which Tennyson has foregone "the proper study of mankind." The one seems to curtail the other, Wordsworth's writings being another example in point. "Men my brothers, men the workers," sings the laureate, and is pleased to watch and encourage them, but always from afar.
With few exceptions, then, his most poetical types of men and women are not substantial beings, but beautiful shadows, which, like the phantoms of a stereopticon, dissolve if you examine them too long and closely. His knights are the old bequest of chivalry, yet how stalwart and picturesque! His early ideals of women are cathedral-paintings-scarcely flesh and blood, but certain attributes personified and angelical. Where a story has been made for him he is more dramatic. Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, Guinevere, are strong, wise, or beautiful, and so we find them in the chronicle from which the poet drew his legend. He has advanced them to the requirements of modern Christianity, yet, hardly created them anew. Undoubtedly Tennyson could force himself to compose some notably dramatic work; but only through skill and strength of purpose, in this age, and with his habit of life. In a dramatic period he might find himself as sadly out of place as Beddoes, Darley, Landor, have been in his own century. By sheer good fortune he flourishes in a time calling for tenderness, thought, excellent workmanship, and not for wild extremes of power. So chaste, varied and tuneful are his notes, that they are scornfully compared to piano-music, in distinction from what he himself has entitled the "God-gifted organ voice of England.” Take, however, the piano as an instrumental expression of recent musical taste, and see to what a height of execution, of capacity to give almost universal pleasure, the
art of playing it has been carried. great pianist is a great artist; and it is no light fame which holds, with relation to poetry, the supremacy awarded to Liszt or Schumann by the refined musicians of our time.
The cast of Tennyson's intellect is such, that his social rank, his training at, an old university, and his philosophic learning, have bred in him a liberal conservatism. Increase of ease and fame have strengthened his inclination to accept things as they are, and, while recognizing the law of progress, to make no undue effort to hasten the order of events. He sees that the thoughts of men are widened by the process of the suns," but is not the man to lead a reform, or to disturb the pleasant conditions in which his lot is cast. No personal wrong has allied him to the oppressed and struggling classes, yet he is too intellectual not to perceive that such wrongs exist. It must be remembered that Shakespeare and Goethe were no more heroic. Just so with his religious attitude. Reverence for beauty would of itself dispose him to love the ivied Church, with all its art, and faith, and ancestral legendary associations; and therefore, while amply reflecting in his verse the doubt and disquiet of the age, his tranquil sense of order, together with the failure of iconoclasts to substitute any creed for that which they are breaking down, have brought him to the position of staunch Sir William Petty (obiit 1687), who wrote in his will these memorable words: "As for religion, I die in the profession of that Faith, and in the practice of such Worship, as I find established by the law of my country, not being able to believe what I myself please, nor to worship God better than by doing as I would be done unto, and observing the laws of my country, and expressing my love and honor unto Almighty God by such signs and tokens as are understood to be such by the people with whom I live, God knowing my heart even without any at all."
So far as the "religion of art" is concerned, Tennyson is the most conscientious of devotees. Throughout his work we find a pure and thoughtful purpose, abhorrent of the mere licentious passion for beauty,
"Such as lurks
In some wild poet, when he works Without a conscience or an aim."
In my remarks upon "In Memoriam" I have shown that in one direction he readily keeps pace with the advance of modern thought. A leading mission of his art appears to be that of hastening the transition of our poetic nomenclature and imagery from the old or phenomenal method, to one in accordance with knowledge and truth. His laurel is brighter for the fact that he constantly avails himself of the results of scientific discovery, without making them prosaic. This tendency, beginning with "Locksley Hall" and "The Princess," increases with him to the present time. If a French story-writer can make the wonders of chemistry and astronomy the basis of tales more fascinating to children than the Arabian Nights, why should not the poet explore this field for the creation of a new imagery and expression? There is a remarkable passage in Wordsworth's preface to the second edition of his poems; a prophecy which, half a century ago, could only have been uttered by a man of lofty intellect and extraordinary premonition of changes even now at hand:
"The objects of the Poet's thoughts are everywhere; though the eyes and senses of men are, it is true, his favorite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge-it is immortal as the heart of man. If the labors of the Men of Science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the Poet will sleep then no more than at present; he will be ready to follow the steps of the Man of Science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the science itself. The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist, or Mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the Poet's art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the followers of the respective sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings. If the time should ever come when what is now called science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the Poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the
Being thus produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man.”
It is not unlikely that Tennyson was early impressed by these profound observations; at all events he has seen the truths of science becoming familiar "to the general," and has governed his art accordingly. The poet and man of science have a common ground, since few discoveries are made without the exercise of the poet's special gift-the imagination. This faculty is required to enable a child to comprehend any scientific paradox: for instance, that of the rotation of the Earth upon its axis. The imagination of an in
vestigator advances from one step to another, and thus, in a certain sense, the mental processes of a Milton and a Newton are near akin. A plodding, didactic intellect is not strictly scientific; nor will great poetry ever spring from a merely phantasmal brain: "best bard because the wisest," sings the poet.
M. Taine's chapter upon Tennyson shows an intelligent perception of the laureate's relations to his time and especially to England; but though containing a fine interlude upon the perennial freshness of a poet and the zest which makes nature a constant surprise to him,-declaring that the poet, in presence of this world, is as the first man on the first day,-with all this excellence the chapter fails to rightly appreciate Tennyson, and overestimates Alfred de Musset in comparison. M. Taine's failure, I think, is due to the fact that no one, however successful in mastering a foreign language, can fully enter into that nicety of art which is the potent witchery of Tennyson's verse. The minute distinction between one poem and another, where the ideas are upon a level, and the difference is one of essential flavor, a foreigner loses without perceiving his loss. Precisely this delicacy of aroma separates Tennyson from other masters of verse. An English school-girl will see in his work a beauty that wholly escapes the most accomplished Frenchman: the latter may have ten times her knowledge of the language, but she "hears a voice he cannot hear" and feels an influence he never can fairly understand. Again, M. Taine does not allow credit for the importance of the works actually produced by Tennyson. Largeness and proportion go for something in edifices; and although De Musset, the errant, impassioned, suffering Parisian, had the sacred fire, and gave out burning flash
es here and there, his light was fitful, nor long sustained, and we think rather of what one so gifted ought to have accomplished than of what he actually did.
But Taine's catholicity, and the very fact that he is a foreigner, have protected him on the other hand from the overweening influence of Tennyson's art, that holds
"Above the subject, as strong gales Hold swollen clouds from raining;"
have made him a wiser judge of the poet's intellectual and imaginative position. In this matter he is like a deaf man watching a battle, undisturbed by the bewildering power of sound. His remarks upon the limitations of a "comfortable, luxurious, English" muse are not without reason; all in all, he has a just idea of Tennyson's representative attitude in the present state of British thought and art. He has laid too little stress upon the difference between Tennyson and Byron, by observing which we gather a clearer estimate of the former's genius than in any other way.
Tennyson is the antithesis of Byron, in both the form and spirit of his song. The Georgian poet, with all the glow of genius, constantly giving utterance to condensed and powerful expressions, never attempted condensation in his general style; there was nothing he so little cared for; his inspiration must have full flow and break through every barrier; it was the roaring of a mighty wind, the current of a great river-prone to overflow, and often to spread thinly and unevenly upon the shoals and lowlands. Tennyson, though composing an extended work, seeks the utmost terseness of expression; howsoever composite his verse, it is tightly packed and cemented, and decorated to repletion with fretwork and precious stones; nothing is neglected, nothing wasted, nothing misapplied. You cannot take out a word or sentence without marring the structure, nor can you find a blemish; while much might be profitably omitted from Byron's longer poems, and their blemishes are frequent as the beauties. Prolixity, diffuseness, were characteristic of Byron's time. Again, Tennyson is greater in analysis and synthesis, the two strong servitors of art. In sense of proportion Byron was all abroad. abroad. He struck bravely into a poem, and, trusting to the fire of his inspiration, let it write itself, neither seeing the end nor troubling his mind concerning it. Cer
tainly this was true with regard to his greatest productions, "Childe Harold" and "Don Juan;" though others, such as "Manfred," were exceptions through dramatic necessity. In Tennyson's method, as in architecture, we are sure that the whole structure is foreseen at the outset. Every block is numbered and swings into an appointed place; often the final portions are made first, that the burden of the plan may be off the designer's mind. Leaving the matter of art, there is no less difference between the two poets as we consider their perceptive and imaginative gifts, and here the largeness of Byron's vision tells in his favor. Tennyson, sometimes grand and exalted, is equally delicate-an "artist of the beautiful" in a minute way. Of this Byron took little account; his soul was exalted by the broad and mighty aspects of nature; for mosaic work he was unfitted: a mountain, the sea, a thunderstorm, a glorious woman-such imposing objects aroused his noble rage. You never could have persuaded him that the microcosm is equal to the macrocosm. Again, his subjectivity, so intense, was wholly different from Tennyson's, in that he became one with Nature—a part of that which was around him. Tennyson is subjective, so far as a pervading sameness of style, a landscape seen through one shade of glass, can make him, yet few have stood more calmly aloof from Nature, and viewed her more objectively. He contemplates things without identifying himself with them. In these respects, Tennyson and Byron not only are antithetical, but,-each above his contemporaries,-reflect the antithetical qualities of their respective eras. In conclusion, it should be noticed that, although each has had a host of followers, Byron affected the spirit of the people at large, rather than the style of his brother poets; while Tennyson, through the force of his admirable art, has affected the poets themselves, who do not sympathize with his spirit, but show themselves awed and instructed by his mastery of technique. Byron's influence was national; that of Tennyson is professional to an unprecedented degree.
If the temperament of Byron or of Mrs. Browning may be pronounced an ideal poetic temperament, certainly the career of Tennyson is an ideal poetic career. He He has been less in contact with the rude outer world than any poet save Wordsworth; again, while even the latter wrote much
prose, Tennyson, "having wherewithal," and consecrating his life wholly to metrical art, has been a verse-maker and nothing else. He has passed through all gradations, from obscurity to laurelled fame; beginning with the lightest lyrics, he has lived to write the one successful epic of the last two hundred years; and though he well might rest content, if contentment were possible to poets and men, with the glory of a far-reaching and apparently lasting renown, he still pursues his art, and seems, unlike Campbell and many another poet, to have no fear of the shadow of his own success. His lot has been truly enviable. We have observed the disadvantages of amateurship in the case of Landor, and noted the limitations imposed upon Thomas Hood by the poverty which clung to him through life; but Tennyson has made the former condition a vantage-ground, and thereby carried his work to a perfection almost unattainable in the experience of a professional, hard-working litterateur. Writing as much and as little as he chose, he has escaped the drudgery which breeds contempt. His song has been the sweeter for his retirement, like that of a cicada. piping from a distant grove.
Reviewing our summary of his genius. and works, we find in Alfred Tennyson the true poetic irritability, a sensitiveness increased by his secluded life, and displayed from time to time in "the least little touch of the spleen;", we perceive him to be the most faultless of modern poets in technical execution, but one whose verse is more remarkable for artistic perfection than for dramatic action and inspired fervor. His adroitness surpasses his invention. Give him a theme, and no poet can handle it so exquisitely-yet we feel that, with the Malory legends to draw upon, he could go on writing "Idyls of the King" forever. We find him objective in the spirit of his verse, but subjective in the decided manner of his style; possessing a sense of proportion, based upon the highest analytic and synthetic powers-a faculty that can harmonize the incongruous thoughts, scenes and general details of a composite period; in thought resembling Wordsworth, in art instructed by Keats, but rejecting the passion of Byron, or having nothing in his nature that aspires to it; finally, an artist so perfect in a widely extended range, that nothing of his work can be spared, and, in this respect, approaching Horace and outvieing Pope; not one of the great wits near